Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Popular Teen Television, Part 1

So, who is a grown-ass person obsessed with teen television shows?


But I didn’t watch any teen television when I actually was a teen. There was a dearth of good ones, and I was too busy with extracurriculars anyway. So what about teens these days? Do the shows that are supposedly about them interest them or reflect their lives at all.

I surveyed our Teen Spies and Analysts to find out.

First of all? Most of them hardly watch any television. They’re all really busy people, just like I was. Most watch an hour or less of TV a day.

But they do make time for their favorites, which are: 

3. Pretty Little Liars

THE PREMISE: The series follows the lives of four girls whose clique falls apart after the disappearance of their leader, Alison. Three years later, Alison's body is found, and they begin receiving messages from the mysterious "A" who threatens to expose their secrets.  

MY VERDICT: Pretty Little Liars is soapy and a little silly and always ends with a killer cliffhanger. Although it’s not what you’d call realistic, it does deal reasonably well with real issues teens face, like homophobia, bullying, a range of family issues, and MURDER! (Er, maybe not that last one).

WHO WATCHES? If you guessed its mostly teens, well, you’d be wrong. 

The recent Halloween special was watched by 2.5 million people, only about 800,000 of which were aged 12-17 (which means there are a lot of grown-up teen TV watchers like me out there). To put that number in perspective, that means about 1 in 32 teens watched Pretty Little Liars last week. In a very crowded classroom, one student would have watched the episode. But! The special was the most popular hour of scripted television for girls aged 12-17 for the entire week. 

OUR TEENS SAY: "I love it! Yeah, it's kind of dumb sometimes, but it's a lot of fun. I really identify with Spencer because I have a perfect older sister too, and I have a friend who's gay, so I think it's great for kids to be able to see characters like Emily on TV."

"I used to watch Pretty Little Liars, but I got frustrated with it, because it never gave us any answers. I thought we'd know who "A" was by the end of the season, but they're just dragging it out forever."

2. The Vampire Diaries

THE PREMISE: The Vampire Diaries is about two vampire brothers in love with the same girl and the various paranormal goings-on of their town of Mystic Falls. Complexly plotted and filled with a cast of vivid, good-looking characters, the show careens from disaster to disaster at a bruising pace.

MY VERDICT: Don’t let the cheesy pilot put you off the way it did me; The Vampire Diaries is one of the most exciting and satisfying shows on television. The plot moves a mile a minute, so there’s never time to get bored, almost every character is well-developed and interesting, and all the various romantic permutations between the leads are lots of fun. 

WHO WATCHES? More adults and more teens. The Vampire Diaries usually scores around 3 million viewers per week, and it’s consistently number one in its time-slot with teens. About 9% of teens watching television on a Thursday at 8:00pm EST are watching The Vampire Diaries. Still, the actual numbers are not that many, probably under a million. 

OUR TEENS SAY: "I love the plot and the characters. There’s always a lot happening and always something to look forward to! It's very addictive."

"I watch because I love Ian Somerhalder, and because Elena has backbone."

"I used to watch The Vampire Diaries, but the stories got too complicated for me to keep up with. Sometimes I’d miss an episode, and when I came back I had no idea what was going on."

And by far the most popular shows with our teens was…  

1. Glee

THE PREMISE: Glee is about a struggling show choir of high school misfits and their passionate but bumbling director. It’s part classic rock, part camp, and part after-school special.

MY VERDICT: I love Glee when I love it, and hate it when I hate it. Glee gets major props for representing a lot of people who don’t normally get represented, like racial/ethnic minorities, those with physical and cognitive disabilities, gay and bisexual teens, gender non-conformers, etc. But where Glee falls down is in providing consistent characterization and making sure that a character’s growth in one episode carries through to the next.

WHO WATCHES? It may be plummeting in the ratings – down more than 30% from last year, which was down considerably from its freshman year – but Glee is still popular with teens. A rerun of Glee usually scores higher ratings that even the most popular episode of Pretty Little Liars, and it regularly gets double or more teen viewers. In our overcrowded classroom, you can bet that three or four students have seen the latest Glee.

OUR TEENS SAY: "A lot of the "outcasts" are misrepresented or underrepresented in teen television shows, and Glee has a way of showcasing those people who are different which appeals to all those people in real life who are different - and there's a lot of us!" 

"I used to watch Glee, but I got bored. I started watching for the show choir aspect, but that was getting less and less focus." 

Bottom line: does the television 
teens watch reflect their realities?

"One thing they totally get right is the DRAMA. Boy drama, friend drama, family drama."

"No high schools that I see on TV ever come close to matching what my high school is like -- and I go to a regular, public school. I think the main thing TV shows get wrong about high schools are these 'clique' things. There's basically just groups of friends who hang out together, and they don't all necessarily hang out with the same kind of people. The defined cliques and defined 'popular' and 'cool' people I have yet to see in real life."

"Some people aren't in just one group. Some people are friends with all sorts of groups of people, not just their one clique."   

"Shows all focus on the really popular people or the "outcasts", not really true average teens."

"Not everyone is getting pregnant all the time."

"They're sometimes sexist, or very focused on romances. Our lives aren't really like that."

"Something they do get right is the way we react to things. When something bad happens, you may freak out for a little while, but then you have to pick yourself up and find a solution. Characters don't ever stop trying, and we don't either."


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