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The Wonder Shows : A Panel of Teens Rates Programs the Networks Produce for Them

March 03, 1991|LAUREN LIPTON | Times Staff Writer

They drop out of school. They walk naked through the cafeteria on a dare. They throw libidinous make-out parties the instant their parents leave town. They drink. They get in car wrecks. They have unprotected sex. They lie to their parents.

Spend a couple of evenings with television's current crop of teen-age characters and this much is clear: Today's teen shows aim to tell it like it is.

But let's face it: The series may be rife with youthful Angst , but they're controlled by people who probably haven't been on the receiving end of the words "you're grounded" for years. So to get the scoop on shows about teens, TV Times formed a panel of local students, armed them with reporters' notebooks and screened sample episodes from this season's series set in high school or revolving around teens.

Our question: What do you like and dislike about teen TV? Our caveat: Be honest. Our recommendation to television producers and executives: Read this material and be ready for a quiz tomorrow.

The Panel

Karen Boehnk, 13, Bell Junior High School, Garden Grove

T.C. Hill, 16, Washington Preparatory High School, Los Angeles

Alex Karasik, 18, Beverly Hills High School

Mark Moniz, 16, Mission Viejo High School

Leilani Palacios, 15, Santa Monica High School

Travis Smith, 18, University of Southern California

Elizabeth Watts, 16, L.A. County High School of the Arts, Los Angeles

Desiree Wong, 18, Hollywood High Magnet School

The Shows

"Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox)

"Blossom" (NBC)

"Degrassi High" (PBS)

"Doogie Howser, M.D." (ABC)

"Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (NBC)

"Parker Lewis Can't Lose!" (Fox)

"21 Jump Street" (Syndicated)

"The Wonder Years" (ABC)

"Yearbook" (Fox)

Top of the Class

For every panelist who loved a show, there was another who hated it. "Beverly Hills 90210," "21 Jump Street," and "Blossom" were mentioned in both "best" and "worst" categories. One panelist chose "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" as one of her three favorite shows, while others frowned upon it for being too shallow.

"Degrassi High" was praised by a panelist as "a great drama involved in every major problem" and criticized by another as being "totally fake": "I don't think a guy would seriously walk naked across the hall (on) a bet," Elizabeth said.

Noticeably lacking criticism was "The Wonder Years," mentioned five times in the "favorite" category. Panelists liked its light, believable humor and its nostalgia.

The most-mentioned element of a good show? Well-developed characters. Accuracy and entertainment value were also deemed important, although sometimes, the panelists conceded, the two might be mutually exclusive. Case in point: The pure-fantasy "Parker Lewis," which got two "favorite" votes ("Who wouldn't want a remote-control locker?" wrote Desiree). Then again, another panelist called the show "more boring than a math class."

What They Really Watch

Most often mentioned: "In Living Color," "The Wonder Years," "A Different World," "L.A. Law" and "The Simpsons."

Details, Details

Yes, they do notice. Our panelists questioned the following: What's with the very prominently displayed box of brand-name granola bars in "Degrassi High"? (Product placement, a spokesperson for the show confirmed.)

Also: Why does "Blossom" feature a famous guest star almost every week? How come practically every show has a 'locker bully'? Why does Fresh Prince get to wear a different jacket than everybody else at his private school?

Real-Life Facts Producers Ought to Know (According to the Panel)

1. After lying to your parents, you almost never come clean because you feel guilty--only because you're afraid you might get caught.

2. Alcohol flows at parties, but peer pressure doesn't--nobody makes a big deal if you don't drink.

3. After your parents find out you lied or used their house for a party, they do not talk calmly and rationally. They yell. Loudly.

Free Advice for Programming Execs

"Observe life as it is, don't stereotype, be more open"--T.C.

"There are few kids who have never smoked, gotten drunk and deceived their parents. It's ridiculous to develop teen-age characters that are 'pure' "--Leilani

"Don't present The Answer, just give a possible scenario"--Travis

"Shows, especially sitcoms, should focus on entertaining rather than teaching"--Mark

"Choose a topic that affects most teen-agers and carry it out until the end--Alex

"Take more risks. The truth hurts, but it's reality and life . Americans need to get with it."--Desiree

"You shouldn't try to get cutesy, perfect actors for the parts."--Karen

Issues They'd Like to See Addressed on TV

Young teen pregnancy, drunk driving, racial tension, abortion, getting into college, financial hardship, the war. Mark thought that "TV has just about done everything to death."

Escapism vs. Realism

Pity the poor producer who must walk the fine line between totally unreal and too personal. On one hand, our panelists took issue with the lack of "real" characters and situations in most of the shows:

"(The series) portray the problems facing students, but most don't get the people right. Things are sometimes glamorized and blown out of proportion, while at other times the problems get glossed over because they (producers) fit issues into a half-hour format"--Travis.

" 'Beverly Hills' had the character get drunk and then right away realize what he did was wrong. All in one show. These shows should try to deal with the issues slowly, building up to the problem. It would be more entertaining and realistic"--Karen.

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