“Secret Life of the American Teenager”: Brenda Hampton’s got her groove back

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Brenda Hampton has been here before.

Critics don’t have a lot of affection for her new ABC Family drama “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” but viewers do. After five airings “American Teenager” has busted ABC Family ratings records and generated a strong Internet following with the demo that matters most to the cabler.

“Who knew teens would watch a show about sex?” Hampton quips. “I just had a feeling…”

“American Teenager” revolves around a 15-year-old girl, Amy, “a nice girl” at Ulysses S. Grant High School, a shy French horn player in the marching band, who winds up pregnant after an encounter with the school stud at band camp.

“I didn’t exactly realize what what happening until, like, after 2 seconds and then it was just over. And it wasn’t fun,” a shaken Amy explains to her friends in the pilot seg.

As she did for 11 seasons on “7th Heaven,” Hampton’s aim is to tell reasonably real-world family stories, leavened with humor, and as much of an authentic voice as she and her staff can muster for the teenage characters. There are a whole bunch of them in “American Teenager,” from the band geeks to the reverent Christians taking chastity vows to the geeky-geeks to the naughty girls to the B.M.O.C.s

“American Teenager” has been gestating for years. It was first set up at Fox, when Hampton’s pal Susanne Daniels, former WB programming prexy, was a 20th Century Fox TV-based producer and the two of them decided to answer the network’s call for a “new ‘90210.’” (Hmmm, sound familiar?)

“A few nights later I had this idea of a girl in a band uniform holding up a pregnancy test,” Hampton recalls. “It kind of all came from that image.”

The project never gelled at Fox (“they decided the girl should not be pregnant”), so Hampton relocated it to Lifetime (where Daniels wound up as head of programming), but it didn’t come together there either.

By the time the curtain fell on “7th Heaven” last year, Hampton pulled the “American Teen” script out one more time and decided that “this time I was going to write it like I wanted to write it.”

(Pictured above, from left, Brenda Hampton, script supervisor Gail Bradley and director Keith Truesdell.)

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  1. Chris says:

    okay lady. calm down. it IS fictional. As a young adult I think the message is to NOT have a baby because your life will not be the same. Jeezus.

  2. Marisa says:

    As a social worker who works with birthmoms, I have been following this show with some interest. I have worked with birthmoms younger than Amy’s character and birthmoms in their 40s and every age in between.
    This show is ludicrous and purely fiction. I want to tell the producers of the show you are sending a HORRIBLE message to teenagers across the country. Fifteen year old girls should not be mothers. Fifteen year old girls should be fifteen year old girls. That baby DESERVES to have two parents that are in a stable marriage who can provide for that baby without the help of the State, Church, parents, etc. A baby/child shouldn’t be passed around between two parents who are still in high school. This is ridiculous.
    They are doing such a disservice. They’re telling girls that if they get pregnant in high school everything will magically work out for you so that you can be a parent. Your friendly neighborhood Christian will get her pastor to give you a job in a daycare where you can leave your child during school hours and this magically appearing job just happens to offer Insurance. Your boyfriend (who is not the birthfather) will get a job in his Millionaire father’s butcher shop to help you support a child who isn’t his. Because 15 year old boys are so apt to do those things. And the birthfather, who has never taken responsibility for any of his actions his entire life, will also get a job in said butcher shop to help you support the baby. Yeah freaking right.
    I am so mad right now.
    ADOPTION is a responsible choice. If Amy chose adoption, that means she was taking responsibility for her actions. ADOPTION IS A RESPONSIBLE CHOICE!!! Yes, we all would like to keep the babies we bring into this life. But those babies didn’t ask to be born. They didn’t ask to be raised by a single teenage mom still living at home with her parents. Mothers do what is in the best interest of their child no matter how much it hurts them personally. And Amy is not doing the responsible thing no matter how many magical jobs appear in her life or how many fifteen year old boys magically want to take responsibility for a child. In working with birthmoms there is one thing that I have found to be true – All the people who said they would help you while you were pregnant, are no where to be found once the baby is born. Ask anyone who’s been in this position.
    “Adoption is not a breaking of trust but a keeping of faith. Not the abandonment of a baby, but the abandonment of SELF for a baby’s sake.” -Curtis Young

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