Nets aim to catch bonus teen viewers with older-skewing fare

on NBC and Time of Your Life on Fox, will teen fare make the cut in the U.S. nets' prime-time skeds next season?...
March 1, 2000

on NBC and Time of Your Life on Fox, will teen fare make the cut in the U.S. nets’ prime-time skeds next season?

Most nets say they don’t count teens among their primary target audience for prime time, and all are planning to chart a steady course when it comes to which viewers they’ll be aiming for next season. That said, they’re happy to be capturing the demo that will become the next generation of highly sought after 18-plus viewers. And an early read of what the nets are seeing in development for next season reveals plenty of concepts with likely teen appeal.

On the teen-heavy end of the broadcast dial, The WB is pursuing a core target audience in prime time of ages 18 to 34, with teens being its biggest secondary audience. ‘We want to keep recruiting on the younger end,’ says Kate Juergens, senior VP of series development. Series with teen leads or settings not only draw teens, but attract 18- to 34-year-old viewers, she says, and will continue to be a ‘big part’ of the upcoming schedule.

Next season may see an infusion of comedy to the network that’s become known for teen-skewing dramas. ‘We’re really putting a big effort toward comedy this year,’ says Juergens, including a concept by Alexa Junge (Friends) centering on an unconventional group of people who form a family, and a possible Nick Turturro (NYPD Blue) starrer in which he plays a 30-something man who parents his younger siblings after the death of their father.

Pilots for next season are also shifting away from school settings and peer relationship themes, says Juergens, towards featuring teens in extraordinary circumstances or with unusual responsibility. These include: a futuristic concept set on earth after a meteor has struck, with a multigenerational cast in which two teens are prominently featured; a La Femme Nikita-style franchise with a girl recruited by a defense department/

CIA-type organization to find her missing father; and the story of a relationship between a single mother and teen daughter who are relatively close in age.

Music is registering big, partly due to the success of teen pop. ‘We love [music] as an arena, and we encouraged people to explore that,’ says Juergens. Concepts range from a young man starting an indie record label, to a Scooby Doo-esque tale featuring kids in a rock band who see ghosts.

While The WB’s secondary focus in prime time is teen girls, UPN is targeting male teens, says Paul McGuire, senior VP of media relations. The channel started aiming at ages 12 to 34 this season after its broad-based programming for ages 18 to 49 the previous year failed, says McGuire, who feels that the shift could generate more dollars for the net. ‘Advertisers covet [the young male demo] because it’s an elusive viewership,’ he says. Still, it’s crucial to pull in the 18- to 34-year-olds in addition to teens.

In development for next season are: a live-action, sci-fi drama from Todd McFarlane Entertainment, in which gorillas rule the planet in a post-apocalyptic setting; from Imagine Television, an urban drama and an anime-style concept based on the comic book Rat Bastard; a new TV adaptation of The Saint from ATG; a clay-animated concept from The Greenblatt-Janollari Studio; and a story about a young boxer called The Contender.

Appealing to teens in prime time can be an effective strategy for a young network, says Fox spokesperson Tom Tyrer. ‘Early in the history of Fox, we were primarily a teen network.’ That positioning was chosen by the net because teens, in seeking to define themselves, are often willing to try new things. ‘The way a network will typically grow is they will try to appeal very specifically to a younger audience,’ says Tyrer. ‘And then, with each progressive year the network is on the air, that audience gains a year.’ For example, when Fox debuted Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1990, the show’s strongest audience was 15-year-old girls; today, it’s 25-year-old women.

While Fox is now aiming for a primary target audience of ages 18 to 34, teens rank as its next most important demo to reach in that day part. As the network has been striving to pull in more viewers ages 35 to 49, ‘one of the criticisms strategically about Fox over the last couple of years is that maybe we took our eye off the ball on the 12- to 17-year-olds, [and] that allowed WB to get into the game,’ says Tyrer.

Summer is a particularly good time to reach teens, says Tyrer, so the network will launch a new reality series from 20th Century Fox Television, likely in June or July, that follows the lives of a group of high-schoolers in Deerfield, Illinois.

Concepts in development for next season include two pitches from hungry man, in conjunction with Brad Grey Television. The Continuing Misadventures of the Official Block Family is a fictional comedy based on the true-life story of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, who was drafted out of high school onto the NBA team. A variety and behind-the-scenes scripted comedy show called The Number One Show in America is also in the works, possibly to be hosted by a 15-year-old British teen. Rounding out the development slate is ATG’s Beach High, a comedy about four multiethnic teens living in Miami. As part of a multiyear first-look deal with Fox, David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal) has signed on to write and produce an hour-long ensemble drama called The Faculty for the net’s fall schedule. The series will focus on the staff of a New England high school. Fox has also inked a two-project agreement with the Carsey-Werner Co. (That 70s Show), as well as development deals with Michael Crichton (ER) and Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (My So-Called Life). James Cameron’s sci-fi, action-adventure series Dark Angel will also launch next season.

NBC is the only U.S. caster offering a branded teen block with TNBC on Saturday mornings, but prime time remains the domain of ages 18 to 49, says Lee Gaither, VP of Saturday morning and family programs at NBC. Gaither believes teens’ hectic lifestyles make them a difficult target in prime time. ‘They are multitasking all the time, and you can’t count on [teens] staying there very long,’ says Gaither. ‘They move and shift so fast.’

But, he says, ‘we’re constantly focused on how to bring [teens] into prime time.’ TNBC is intended as a bridge that keeps teens with the network as they age into its prime-time target demo. For this reason, Gaither is looking to ensure that TNBC stays consistent in tone with the network’s overall positioning, and may add a drama to the block next year.

Out of NBC’s 10 drama pilot pick-ups for next season, the most likely to have teen appeal are The Greenblatt-Janollari Studio’s News from the Edge, starring a 20-something reporter working on a weekly tabloid; and DreamWorks Television’s Semper Fi, featuring a multiethnic group entering the military out of high school or college. Comedies in development include a Touchstone Television project written by Adam Herz (American Pie) that stars four high school boys, and Carsey Werner Co.’s Dog Years, which revolves around dogs who can talk to each other.

A few of NBC’s mid-season entries look poised to register on the teen meter. Carsey Werner’s God, the Devil and Bob, starring an auto worker chosen by the Devil to save the world to prove to God that humanity isn’t worthless, will launch in an 8:30 p.m. slot on March 9.

On the live-action comedy front, M.Y.O.B., from NBC Studios, features a teen girl on the hunt for her birth mother, who ends up living with her aunt instead. At press time, an air date had not been set for M.Y.O.B.

At ABC, success with the 18 to 49 demo is the yardstick for its prime-time shows, says Jeff Bader, senior VP of program planning and scheduling, even for its highest-rated teen night on Friday with the TGIF block. That’s because teens comprise just 9% of the total viewing audience in the U.S., while adults 18 to 49 make up 48%. What’s also made it harder to target teens in prime time is the fact that households today tend to have multiple TV sets, which means teens likely aren’t watching TV with their parents.

This month, TGIF gets a shakeup with the March 24 debut of its first reality series, an untitled half-hour show about the making of a boy band called O-Town. Animated comedy Clerks, based on the 1994 black-and-white film and produced by Miramax Television in association with Touchstone Television, will likely hit prime time by mid-March, with Kevin Smith (one of the series’ creators and executive producers), Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes reprising their roles from the feature flick.

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