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Special Report: Teens: Sweet Valley High

Heading into its third season of syndication, Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley High continues to chart the adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Identical in looks, but worlds apart in temperament, the twin sisters spawned a popular series of books before being...
September 1, 1996

Heading into its third season of syndication, Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High continues to chart the adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. Identical in looks, but worlds apart in temperament, the twin sisters spawned a popular series of books before being adapted for the small screen by Saban Entertainment. Like the books, the series is a hit with teen girls and has proven to be a rival for such teen fare as Saved by the Bell, California Dreaming and the syndicated version of Beverly Hills, 90210.

Unlike many other kids producers, who avoid the dread ‘G’ word, Saban Entertainment never forgets who the core Sweet Valley High audience is: girls, girls, girls. It is that way with the book series, and remains so for the television version, points out Elie Dekel, executive vice president, marketing and advertising for Saban.

‘The reason it was made into a television series is because it is tremendously popular with girls,’ says Dekel. ‘It’s a rare target audience, so we have continued to nurture it. And because it is such a rare audience, we have been able to leverage that.’

Advertisers and promotional partners want to reach that audience, which is another reason the show’s creators make sure they maintain Sweet Valley High’s teen girl focus, according to executive producer Lance Robbins.

‘We’re very careful now to not get too much of a boy focus. Girls are not interested in what boys do at a basketball game, but they are interested in what they do on a date,’ he says. The girls’ romantic escapades are always going to be an important part of the show, just like they are in the books, he adds.

Now that the show has aired for two seasons, it has developed a life of its own apart from the book series. ‘Seventy to 80 percent original and 30 percent bits and pieces from the books,’ says Robbins. This season, for example, a new character named Shred, modeled after Fast Times at Ridgemont High character Spinocoli, makes his debut.

‘We thought we needed another funny male character,’ Robbins says. In general, however, ‘we tend to want to use characters that are used in the books so the viewer can say, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember her.”

While all returning shows must evolve to maintain fresh appeal, staying one step ahead of the latest trends and fashions is vital for a teen show like Sweet Valley High. Show costume designers regularly consult the editors of teen magazines, along with store buyers to make sure the show is trendy, but not too cutting-edge.

‘Clothing is very important,’ Robbins says. ‘You want girls to say, ‘Oh, I could be like that girl,’ or ‘Oh, I have that outfit.”

Saban plans to kick off the new season with a sweepstakes awarding a trip to the set and a professional makeover. Promotional partners include ABC Radio, which will run spots for a four- to six-week period, and Nestlé, with its 100 Grand candy bar. Campaigns are also planned for the February sweeps. Previous promotional partners include LA Gear.

‘The show has been very attractive to major brands looking to reach this market, and obviously, the ratings justify it,’ Dekel says. ‘One helps drives the other.’

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