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


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.)