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School of teen series make fall debuts

When considering teen shows entering the fall lineup, attention usually focuses on the WB, whose network-wide youth slate is unmatched in the broadcast arena. Not surprisingly, the WB's burgeoning ratings in the 12 to 34 demo have sparked the competitive interest...
September 1, 1999

When considering teen shows entering the fall lineup, attention usually focuses on the WB, whose network-wide youth slate is unmatched in the broadcast arena. Not surprisingly, the WB’s burgeoning ratings in the 12 to 34 demo have sparked the competitive interest of other networks, most of whom have added teen offerings in prime time.

Surprisingly, one network with obvious designs on the WB’s teen viewers is NBC, best known for meaty adult dramas such as ER and Law and Order. The peacock ponies up one of the most audacious teen offerings with Freaks and Geeks, although the hour-long comedy debuts in a graveyard time slot-Saturdays at 8 p.m. Creator and supervising producer Paul Feig designed the series to realistically mirror the hell of his own high school experience circa 1980.

Produced by DreamWorks Television, the series is a radical departure from the WB’s ‘beautiful people’ formula because it depicts teens as they really are-predominantly unattractive. Feig says taking this tack was necessary to create ‘an honest show.’ Describing the show’s ‘cruel humor,’ Feig recounts a scene from the pilot in which a diminutive nerd (played by John Daley) is backed up against the wall and pummeled by huge, dodgeball-wielding jocks: ‘That dodgeball scene happened to me,’ he notes. ‘To make a high school series and not show cliques would be to stick my head in the sand.’ One exception to the show’s heavy geek quota is its luminous lead Lindsay (newcomer Linda Cardellini), who slinks around the high school campus in an army jacket, trying to avoid being associated with her nerd brother and brainy best friend.

Elsewhere on the hour-long teen drama front, Fox antes up elite prep school-based Manchester Prep on Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Time of Your Life in the same slot on Mondays. The latter features cast and creators of Party of Five in a story in which San Francisco transplant Sarah (Jennifer Love Hewitt) undertakes a search for her real father. Set in the trend capital of Manhattan’s East Village, the series zeroes in on adolescent angst with a story line as dark as a subway tunnel. Equally twisted, Manchester Prep explores the corrupt underbelly of privileged families, as seen through the eyes of their jaded teen progeny at an elite prep school.

ABC’s fall lineup is light on teen-skewing fare, with one notable exception: Thursday night’s Wasteland (9 p.m.), executive produced by Dawson’s Creek/Scream creator and reigning teen-demo guru Kevin Williamson. Sporting an ensemble cast of six 20-somethings, this series may attract the wanna-be-20 teen crowd with plots that center on facing life after college. Wasteland is one of the first projects from teen-friendly studio Miramax’s new TV shingle.

The only thing teen at CBS are the cast members of several new series. Now and Again, an action/comedy/drama/romance premiering from

9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays, stars Heather Matarazzo of 1997′s hit adolescent anxiety indie film Welcome to the Dollhouse. Matarazzo plays the daughter of an insurance agent who is killed, and whose soul is infused by the government into the body of a 26-year-old hunk. Comedy half-hour series Work With Me (Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.) features youth talent Ethan Embry (Disturbing Behavior, Can’t Hardly Wait) and newcomer Emily Rutherford as assistants to two married lawyers who go into practice with each other despite radically different business styles.

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