Ask Bob Bain — creator and exec producer of Fox’s Teen Choice Awards, which air tonight on the network — how he manages to crack the code of what’s hot in the teen and tween universe, and you’ll get a simple answer.
“I think I’m good at this because I really listen to what my audience is saying, and I watch which posters go up on my kids’ walls and look at which CDs and books they’re buying,” says Bain, who is also longtime producer of the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. “It can literally change overnight, so I have to constantly be on top of it.”
There’s actually a lot more recon that goes into choosing who will be on Teen Choice. While Bain’s own children and comments that come into the Teen Choice Awards website are weighed carefully, he also relies on research and the input of his staff in order to read the terrain of teen pop culture.
Stars like this year’s host, Katy Perry, get chosen because they’ve reached a high point in teen consciousness by really understanding how to relate to their audience, according to Bain.
The show’s overall design — with dozens of awards categories ranging from film to music to sports — was created to have broad appeal for teens, by squeezing as many of their idols into one time slot as possible.
“Teenagers today are just like teenagers have always been,” says Bain. “They want to see their heroes.”
Bain also points out that the Teen Choice Awards does best during upticks in the culture, when a band, singer or movie seems to capture wide attention. For a while, the focus fell on Britney Spears and ‘N Sync. Then the cycle dipped before the appearance of two new juggernauts: Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers (Joe, Kevin and Nick, if you don’t know any 11-year-old girls).
From Bain’s perspective, the screaming heard now when Justin Bieber appears onstage is the same screaming that drowned out the musical performance of the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The show is also timed to what can only be described as a major life event for most teens — going back to school after summer vacation. During that time, kids are focused on looking as good as they can when they return to campus, so advertisers can grab their attention.
Bain believes the same kinds of advertisers who sought out teen and tween eyeballs decades ago will continue to buy spots on his show.
“This isn’t the 18-to-49 demographic,” says Bain. “I guarantee you’ll see ads for pimple cream on our show.”
While teens today may be motivated by the same things that teens have always liked — seeing their favorite celebrities and trying to look good at school — those are the only things that will stay the same from one awards show to the next.
“Five years from now, out of everyone you see onstage at the Teen Choice Awards, I’m the one who is most likely to still be there,” says Bain. “That’s how fast things move.”