Looking for the next 'Dawson's Creek'
August 5, 1999
From Sherri Sylvester
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Television critics previewing the fall season in Los Angeles have been carted to teen events, photo-ops and meet-and-greets with the class of '99 -- the fall freshmen. At least 10 new shows next season are aimed at young viewers.
Credit or blame the success of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Felicity" and "Dawson's Creek" on the WB for that.
"Network television: They find a success, and the other networks copy it, and the same network itself copies it," says Kristen Baldwin of Entertainment Weekly.
Television has made multimedia darlings of teens-turned-20 Katie Holmes, of "Dawson's Creek" and Jennifer Love Hewitt of FOX's "Party of Five." Hewitt's getting her own spin-off, "Time of Your Life."
"It's a huge risk," Hewitt says, "letting 19-year-olds bring in the ratings that you need to have your network be successful. You're seeing lots of really talented young people, and it's because they're being respected for what they do."
According to published reports, Generation Y -- or at least the 20-year-olds -- spent $141 billion last year. Their allowance: an estimated $6 billion. The average teen sees 20,000 commercials a year, and advertisers spent $800 million to reach them.
The networks are scheming to lure some of that money. NBC is releasing "Freaks and Geeks," an hourlong drama about two teen-age siblings at a suburban high school. FOX counters with "Manchester Prep," a show about rich kids with cruel intentions, while the WB rolls out the alien teen program "Roswell."
The WB got an 82-percent ratings boost from Generation Y. It was the only broadcaster last season to increase its viewership. Upfront advertising dollars spent on the WB also rose from $170 million two years ago to $300 million last year.
Saturation? Probably, says analyst
The Gen-Yers outnumber Gen-Xers four to one. Still, FOX wants both X and Y viewers in its equation. (Getting lost? Generation X is older than Generation Y. Gen-Xers may be in their early 30s now. Gen-Yers are closer to 20.)
"We don't want to be strictly a teen network. We don't think there's a good business for us in that," says Doug Herzog, president of entertainment for FOX Broadcasting Corp.
He says the secret to getting Xs and Ys to watch is showcasing ultrasophisticated teens.
"We try to portray a group of kids that the audience will want to be," says Holmes.
Garth Ancier, president of NBC entertainment, says teens on the programs probably don't talk in real life the way they do on television, but he says he doesn't see that as a problem.
"They're articulating feelings that they don't know how to articulate yet, but a teenager can relate to that and an adult can relate to that," Ancier says.
UPN's "Moesha" is giving birth to a new comedy called "Mo'Nique." Brandy Norwood, who plays Moesha, says she understands the importance of getting the parents onboard.
"We try to touch on sex," she says. "We try to touch on what the real world is all about. But what we do is we don't go too far."
The issue for networks may be saturation, as some two-dozen old and new shows vie for young viewers. But the problem might not be apparent until it's happened.
"One of the things the networks do is imitate each other," Baldwin says. "Another is that they don't really seem to learn their lessons very quickly. And if one teen show fails, they're just going to try another one."
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