Teen shows stop kidding around

Sex and drug storylines are firmly in play for targeting 14-18 demo

Kidshows are growing up. Programming for the 14-18 demo has taken a harder-edged approach as producers react to the increased sophistication of their audience.

“With our show we can deal with issues like drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, same-gender sex,” says Tommy Lynch, who produces “South of Nowhere” for the N, “things that go on the teen space that we take right out of every high school in the country. Those are not the kind of stories that we would tell for the 6-to-12 demo.”

Lynch says social culture and technology conspire to age kids quicker, meaning teen tastes in programming have changed over the last decade.

“The teen world today is much more complex,” he says. “You talk about age compression: Their world moves at the speed of light. They have information delivered to them in so many ways. Also, when television started, the nuclear family was the basis of all programming. The nuclear family of that era does not exist anymore.

Grown-up viewing

“You have shows for teens, you have shows for kids, and you have shows for adults. But when you hit a chord, people go to it. I bet a lot of teen girls watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ The kids today are watching Stephen Colbert and ‘The Daily Show’ like our parents watched Walter Cronkite.”

Mar Vista CEO Fernando Szew, whose company produces “Beyond the Break,” says years of catering to tweens left a void for the older teens that is finally being filled.

“I’m not sure that the older teens got forgotten; I think it’s just a natural segmentation of what used to be the teenage marketplace,” Szew says. “Clearly the world has gotten much more sophisticated — by that I mean more complex — and you do realize there is a segment of the marketplace that was kind of being underserved and left behind.

“Once you create shows for a tween or younger teen audience, then you are obviously not reaching the 16- to 18-year-olds who are already dealing with real grown-up issues. Those are the stories that we are reflecting on the screen with a show like ‘Beyond the Break.’ ”

The importance of snaring older teen viewers goes directly to networks’ bottom lines, Lynch points out.

“Their demo has always been the first to buy new technology, new stuff that people want to sell, so advertisers desire them a lot. And teens also have a cultural impact. MTV was built as a teen network 25 years ago.”

Savoir faire everywhere

Nowhere is that impact more noticeable than in the explosion of entertainment technology, adds DIC head of global sales Nancy Fowler.

“Two to three years ago, we realized that in order to reach an older teen audience, we had to completely change the way we look at our business,” Fowler says. “We realized that if we wanted to reach that demo, we had to be online, we had to be on television, we had to be on video, we had to be on mobile, and we had to be at the places where they shop. It couldn’t be just from one platform.”

The push to reach older teens isn’t just a domestic trend.

“I think this has been an international phenomenon,” Szew observes.

But he adds, “Although, while every marketplace is different, we cannot forget that we in Hollywood are creating television in the U.S. that influences culture around the globe.”

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