I’ve never actually had a 90-year-old sugar-daddy boyfriend, but if I did, I would tell him that he looks handsome with his elegant red border, classic font and thinning-but-still-there paper stock. I would also do whatever I could to keep him healthy.
So when I found out TIME turns 90 this week, I called some experts for advice on keeping the magazine relevant, interesting and solvent enough to overpay columnists. It is, I learned, about 100 times easier to get an incredibly famous 90-year-old on the phone than an unemployed 25-year-old.
Norman Lear, the 90-year-old creator of TV shows like All in the Family, told me TIME should keep doing what it’s always done but to be aware that as soon as you turn 90, people treat you differently even if you act the same. “Suddenly I walk into a room, they’re ready to applaud. I’m told how great I look all the time, and they don’t mean beautiful. They mean, You’re alive,” he said. People root for nonagenarians, Lear told me, because it gives them hope that they might live that long too. With magazines folding constantly, TIME’s mere existence will impress people. All those other magazines at the newsstand will be encouraged by the fact that they might still exist after there are no Kardashians to put on their covers.
We definitely, though, need to stop writing about old people. No more covers called “How to Die” and more about hot moms breast-feeding. Lear, the most successful sitcom creator ever, recently wrote a script about retirees in Palm Springs, Calif., called Guess Who Died?—and not one network bought it. “They can’t get over how good I look at 90 but won’t honor the demographic. One Betty White does that for all of us, across 100 networks,” he said. If Norman Lear can’t sell Guess Who Died?, how could TIME sell that obituary cover of Gerald Ford?
Instead, we should surround ourselves with young people, as Lear has. In addition to having a bunch of young poet friends, Lear stays up on new ideas through his 18-year-old twin daughters. TIME definitely should get a whole bunch of 18-year-old twin daughters. We should start by giving those Lear girls internships.
It’s O.K. to also hang out with people our age, like 90-year-old Carl Reiner, whom Lear had lunch with a few days earlier. Reiner, who created The Dick Van Dyke Show and directed The Jerk, told me that by just doing what he has always done—writing a few hours a day, appearing on The Tonight Show, tweeting once a day, promoting himself by mentioning his new book, I Remember Me, three times in our conversation—he feels more active and relevant. TIME, he said, should continue doing what it does so it will last at least until it finally puts him on the cover. Which I would have considered pitching if I hadn’t learned a lesson from the failure of Guess Who Died? Reiner also stays up on pop culture, since nearly every night, 86-year-old Mel Brooks comes over to watch TV (Justified, The Good Wife, Homeland, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher). It is totally acceptable, I was glad to learn, for TIME to take naps.
Looking for more practical guidance, I told Dr. Oz that I have a 90-year-old friend who could use some health advice. He told me that frailty is the No. 1 cause of death for people in their 90s, which was shocking because I would have guessed that the No. 1 cause of death for people in their 90s was being in their 90s. “Most important,” he said, “give your heart a reason to keep beating by bringing a positive energy to the world.” This was the most subtle way anyone had ever asked TIME to get rid of my column.
I also asked financial expert Dave Ramsey what to tell my 90-year-old friend who’s still working—but in a rapidly shrinking field—and has a lot of people dependent on him. Ramsey said something about how ice-block owners panicked when refrigeration was invented but a few smart ones went into the ice-cube business. I was going to tell Richard Stengel, the editor of the magazine, about this, but I was afraid he was going to tell me that writing a story about these newfound ice cubes was a great idea.
I did run the other great ideas I’d picked up past Rick, who rejected all of them, arguing that TIME is forever contemporary because it explains the world of today. “To me, there’s nothing that seems older than trying to seem young. Is there a different way to do a sequester story for people in their 20s or 30s?” Yes, Rick. By not doing a sequester story.
So I’m going to take TIME out more—maybe an early-bird dinner with Lucky, brunch with BuzzFeed, some theater with Rookie—and make it spend more quality time with TIME For Kids. Otherwise I’m going to help it keep doing what it’s always done. I’ll just take a nap during that sequester story.