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Monday, December 11, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Through different eyes

Newhouse News Service

Through different eyes

Pop icons and nostalgia in generational shift

Those kickboxing, kung-fu fighting, perfectly-coiffed heroines in "Charlie's Angels" aren't just beating the crud out of movie villains.

More significant is their other triumph: The movie version of the 1976-1981 TV series is leading the way toward a cultural shift.

After years of baby-boomer tastes ruling the nostalgia wing of pop culture, it's getting to be the post-boomers' turn. Even as such '60s-era revamps as "Wild Wild West" and "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and the early '70s-set "Almost Famous" performed disappointingly, "Charlie's Angels" surpassed expectations, taking in a rock-'em-sock-'em $75 million in just two weeks.

Where "classic rock" used to mean Led Zeppelin and the Steve Miller Band, more radio stations are going to all-'80s formats.

On Nick at Nite, the all-reruns cable channel that started 15 years ago as a boomer nostalgia wallow, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Mary Tyler Moore" have been sent to the channel's older sibling, TV Land. Such oldsters' departures made room for new additions "Three's Company" and "The Facts of Life," which tube-obsessed kids watched in first run or reruns. Coming up next year are '80s hits "Family Ties" and "Cheers."

A moving target

"We've always tried to go after a generational sweet spot," says Jim Burns, Nick at Nite's senior vice president of programming. "We have had to shift our programming and the look and feel and sound of the network."

To reach the channel's target 18- to 49-year-old audience, Nick at Nite looks at when people get most hooked on TV. "We pick 15 as that age, with a range of about three years on either side," Burns says. "In growing up with television, it makes a big impression on you when you're in high school. When we do focus groups, people remember where they watched a show, who was in the room, what kind of carpeting was on the floor. I try and think about what was really popular when a 30-year-old today was 15."

In fact, "Charlie's Angels" is just far enough out of the sweet spot to air on TV Land, which targets a 25- to 54-year-old audience.

To Christopher Rupp, a 28-year-old who works for the McMenamins brew-pub empire of the Pacific Northwest, nostalgia for the late '70s or early '80s has no deep, hidden meaning. "It's something you did when you were young," Rupp says. "I remember being 12 and actually caring what happened to Tootie on `Facts of Life.' "

Rupp grew up watching television, listening to Van Halen and "classic rock" and catching such Tom Cruise movies as "Top Gun." Though he's eager to see the "Charlie's Angels" movie, Rupp is wary of other TV-to-movie takes supposedly meant to appeal to him. "It'd be pretty sad if there was a `Dukes of Hazzard' remake. I can just see it, Danny DeVito as Boss Hogg."

But Rupp expects more to come. "We're just getting to the age where a lot of us have good jobs and are making good money, so we can go out and buy stuff."

When the world was safe

To Kneel Cohn, 32-year-old co-owner of Ground Kontrol, an '80s video game arcade with two locations in Portland, his fellow Generation X-ers use nostalgia to unwind.

"It's coming back to that time when you could do what you wanted and the world was a safe place. It was OK for your parents to drop you off at the arcade and play Frogger and Pac Man, because they weren't violent."

Author William Strauss and his co-author, Neil Howe, have charted America's generations in four books. Strauss believes the post-boomer nostalgia boom is a sign that Gen X-ers are coming into maturity.

Strauss and Howe differ from common generation theory - they define baby boomers as born between 1943 and 1960 (demographers have long considered 1946-1964 the boomer birth date boundaries). Gen-Xers were born in the years 1961-1981, Strauss says.

Strauss is watching the post-X-ers, the so-called "Millennials" born from 1982 up to now. The subject of his and Howe's new book, "Millennials Rising," they are the people poised to control youth culture, Strauss says.

As Gen X-ers see youth-pop types such as Britney Spears take the stage, they become reflective. "As the culture begins tipping toward the taste and market of someone other than themselves, you will see Gen-X nostalgia creeping in," Strauss says. "They're not the young generation anymore."

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Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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