Teens embrace WB's offer
By TRICIA McHALE
Scene Television Writer
The dominant trend in television today is the development of programs that are geared toward younger viewers. This movement has been going for several years, with each season having to deal with this target audience de-aging.
It was not very long ago when sitcoms and dramas were family-centered and similarly written for mature audiences. Then, the main characters in newer television shows became simply newlyweds, married without children, as in "Mad About You." The next logical step after this phenomenon faded was to write singles-centered programming like "Friends."
While this final phase is still prevalent, another trend is taking off. More and more dramas and sitcoms are being written for and about teenagers. And while the other networks were busy ripping off "Friends," the fledgling WB network, when it was coming into existence a few years ago, latched onto the concept of targeting the young and generally forgotten audience.
This season the network continues this tradition, while also recognizing the importance of the 20-something demographic, by maintaining old programming and introducing new shows that are written for adolescents. From previous years, various popular sitcoms and dramas are returning.
"Dawson's Creek" enters its third season. These New England kids are getting older and wiser, since, after all, they are juniors now. This year, the usual crew consisting of a reconciled Dawson and Joey, Pacey and Jen, join last year's recruits, Andi and Jack, and try to survive high school. This is actually quite a feat, considering that Capeside High is probably the most exhaustingly eventful secondary institution in the history of television, with the possible exception of West Beverly, the "90210" kids' alma mater.
In an attempt to capitalize on the proven success of "Dawson's Creek," the WB network is introducing another high school drama that follows the same general formula of teen angst. "Popular" is about two rivals who are thrown together because their respective single-parents are seeing each other. Therefore, the popular Brooke is forced to speak with intellectual underdog Sam — what a chore.
"Felicity," perhaps because she is on a new night, also returns with a new haircut and a new outlook on life. Using the insight she gained during freshman year, Felicity is now dispensing advice through her RA duties. She is moving on with her life, dropping her pre-med major to concentrate on art. She is also looking for love, now that she has begun to smooth things over with Noel, who no longer detests her, and has officially moved away from Ben, though the two were very on-again-off-again in the first two episodes of the season.
The network is also milking its "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" audience by creating "Angel," the spin-off about the new life of Buffy's vampire-lover. Angel moves to Los Angeles, where he fights demons. He is aided by Cordelia, the former Sunnydale resident who is now trying to make it in Hollywood as an actress, and new friend, Doyle, his liaison with the supernatural.
Because the show is developed by the same producers as "Buffy," it has the same feel of fantasy and humor as does its predecessor.
Speaking of which, Buffy, now sans the love of her life and her former sidekick, continues to fight evil in Sunnydale and attends college nearby so she can stay near the hell-mouth and save the world while trying to maintain a decent GPA.
On Wednesdays, the WB offers a look at science fiction from a teenager's perspective with "Roswell." Max, his sister and a friend are orphaned aliens, stranded on earth since the infamous 1947 Roswell crash of a spaceship. Being an extra-terrestrial can be hard enough, but these kids also have to deal with suspicious citizens, and Max, in particular, must deal with his ill-fated attraction to earth girl Liz.
The previously mentioned shows are definitely, though not exclusively, geared toward teenagers. However, the network does also pay homage to the post-college-aged single person in "Jack and Jill."
This hour-long drama is about two young people trying to make it in New York City as they try to juggle careers and relationships. The show is a little more mature than the "Dawson's Creek"-type program, considering that the central characters do have about eight or nine years of experience on the "Creek" kids.
The most generally-targeted new show to come from the network is "Safe Harbor." It follows in the footsteps of "7th Heaven," and other family dramas. A widowed father of three, his mother and a runaway teen all live together on beachfront property in Florida. This is basically as far as the concept goes, leaving the writing to include various general topics for however long this show lasts.
From the looks of it, the WB plans to monopolize the teenage viewing audience for the time being. Though, for their sake, this latest trend better not die quickly. If that is the case, that leaves the network with an entire lineup of moot programming. However, considering the presence and influence of teenage television viewers, that will not like happen any time soon.
All Scene Stories for Wednesday, October 27, 1999