A few years ago, a network television executive was asked to describe his ideal audience. He was looking for "voracious consumers of free television," he said, people who couldn't afford cable services, didn't have jobs during the day or reasons to go to bed early, and who were easily overwhelmed by programming choices and so preferred to stick with one channel throughout the day.
His ideal audience, in other words, was the very young, the very old, and the very sick.
Today, the target audience has shifted a bit. The very old and the very sick are on their own.
Old people - and I-m using the Standard Industry Definition of old people, which is anyone over 40 - have already decided so many things about their lives - what foods they like to eat, which soft drinks they prefer, how they like to cure their headaches and their stuffy noses, things like that. Young people - untrustworthy, promiscuous, persuadable - tend not to have settled on a few key brands, and can thus be persuaded that doctors have indeed recently created an ointment that makes pimples disappear, that switching soft drink preferences increases opportunities for casual sex, and that certain fast-food restaurants are merry places filled with attractive, laughing young people.
I am out having a beer with my plastic surgeon friend. He has a booming Beverly Hills practice and always has great stories, mostly about liposuction and breast augmentation. Most of his patients are involved in the entertainment industry, and come to him for simple nips and tucks here and there -- to be, what he calls, "refreshed." He is talking about one of his new patients, a well-known young actress. He won't tell me her name.
"What does she want done?" I ask.
"Her neck," he answers.
"Her neck? What was wrong with her neck?"
"Nothing, really. A little loose. Some diminished tautness. Nothing major," he says. "But the neck is tricky. You can't really wait until it sags and completely loses its elasticity. You have to adjust it a little bit every year or so. Take it in an inch now and then. You can't put the neck off, like the chin or the forehead."
"How old is she?"
"That's the problem. She's twenty-eight. She waited way too long. Should've come to me four years ago."
I laugh and shake my head. To be twenty-eight and worried about your neck! I take a sip of my beer and look at my reflection in the mirror at the back of the bar. I think I look okay. Not great, but okay. I lift my chin and tilt my head back to get a good look at my neck. My friend watches me do this. He clears his throat. "You know," he says, "you'd be surprised how many of my patients are men."
"Forget it," I say. "I'm not an actor and I'm not paying you $25,000 to stretch my neck."
"Don't flatter yourself. The neck is the least of your problems. For you, I'd recommend an eye tuck, a forehead lift, a chin implant, a jaw shape, and some lipo around the jowls before we even think about the neck."
"Forget it," I say.
"Try this," he says.
He puts my hands together, as if in prayer. He tucks my thumbs under my chin, and places my two index fingers against my nose. "Now," he says, "leaving your thumbs touching, open your hands up, like you're trying to smooth out your face. Pull back gently."
I do it.
"Now, hold," he says. "And look in the mirror."
I do. I see a tight, wrinkle-free face. I see a pronounced jaw-line. I see the familiar face-lift perpetual smile. I see myself, refreshed.
"Tonight," he says, ominously, "you'll brush your teeth and look at yourself in the mirror, and you'll think, 'hey, I don't look bad.' And later this week, maybe in the morning after you've shaved, you'll chuckle to yourself and do the thumbs-under-the-chin trick, just for a laugh. But you'll start to notice all the little droops and sags. The folds of skin that suddenly appear. The creases where nothing should crease. And then maybe you'll hear about a couple of young writers, guys in their early twenties, who are suddenly hot. And the years will start running together in your memory and teen-aged boys will start calling you 'sir' and the grey hairs will start sprouting and every single morning you'll tuck your thumbs under your chin, 'just to see,' you'll tell yourself. And then one day you'll be in my office."
"Who are you?- I ask. -The devil?"
My friend laughs. "Nope. Just a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills."
That-s it for this week.
Next week, the scariest words in the English language.
For KCRW, I-m Rob Long. This has been Martini Shot.