Wendie Malick on Being a Woman of a Certain Age

Angela Weiss/Getty Images
Angela Weiss/Getty Images

You've heard it before: Once an actress reaches her 50s (or maybe even her 40s), show business typically isn't interested anymore. But 61-year-old Wendie Malick isn't so sure about that. "The sheer numbers of women over 50, I think give people pause and force a lot of producers and writers to realize there is an enormous audience out there that they haven't been serving very well, who have disposable incomes," she explains. "Everyone's been such slaves to the young 18-to 29-demographic of boys that they've sort of forgotten about this giant group, but baby boomers are not to be ignored."

Case in point: Malick's sitcom "Hot in Cleveland," which was just renewed for a fourth season and co-stars 51-year-old Valerie Bertinelli, 50-year-old Jane Leeves, and of course, the iconic Betty White, who just turned 90. The success of the show -- about three single friends from Los Angeles who wind up living together in a house Cleveland with a wise-cracking elderly caretaker -- hasn't come as a big surprise to Malick. "After we did our first table-read for the pilot, we all looked at each other and went 'Oh my gosh, something is happening here,'" she recalls. "You never know until you actually sit down together and read it. You can think you'll have chemistry, but you just don't know until you're in the room together. Women of a certain age had been just ignored for so long and there was just so much to mine there."

Ironically, it's been White, the eldest member of the cast, who's brought in the youngest viewership. "Oddly, a lot of young people who never saw any of the shows that were on TV Land came to it probably because of Betty having been on 'Saturday Night Live' [in May 2010]. That was huge," says Malick. "How funny it is that a 90 year old woman brought probably more teenagers to the show than any of the other broads in the cast?"

Despite her regular gig, Malick -- who previously won two Emmys for her role on the long-running NBC sitcom "Just Shoot Me" -- is focused on more than just TV these days. "To me there's no delineation. I do theater, film, television. It's either a chance to work with a particular director or actors, but almost invariably it's the script that draws me to something."

The latest project to catch her fancy is the independent film "What Happens Next," available on DVD this month. In the romantic comedy Malick plays a woman who's trying to get her retired billionaire brother to settle down with a lady of her choosing, as it becomes more and more obviously clear he's interested in a younger man. "Sometimes I like to take sort of chances on indie projects that allow me to work with new directors, and if I think there's something that could be juicy to do at that particular time for that movie," she shares. "I look around and think what would be the most interesting thing to do right now?"

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

When it comes to date night with her husband of nearly 17 years, Richard Erickson, what interests them most is usually just hanging out at home. "Last night we watched two episodes of 'Downton Abbey,' which was just the best thing ever," confesses Malick. "We live in a fabulous place in the Santa Monica Mountains. Staying home for us is such a rarity and it's so wonderful. We built a fire in the fireplace and had a great bottle wine."

As for the couple's secret to a long marriage, Malick recalls something her hubby told her before they tied the knot.

"He once said if you could be as kind and loving to me as you are to the dogs, we will have a very good relationship. And I thought, 'I have to remember that," says Malick, who, along with Erickson, are parents to two dogs, two miniature donkeys, and three horses. "And I think that, you know, a sense of humor goes a long way. The sort of short haiku of our marriage and why I think it works so well is I make him laugh and he makes me think."

And what about those donkeys?

"Oh, they're just adorable and they make you laugh," Malick gushes. "They don't really do anything except be really really cute. They're fabulous."

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