Parents' Guide: Teen TV's Picks and Pans
South of Nowhere's Ashley and Spencer
Michael Davis and Mark Nollinger, two dads who write and edit the family page for TV Guide
, got to talking recently about the state of teen TV, the importation of Canadian angst, bikini shows and snow parkas.
Michael Davis: What do you think is the best show for teens on TV? My favorite, Everwood, got killed when WB merged with UPN to form CW. So CW is dead to me, even though it hasn't signed on yet.
Mark Nollinger: Yeah, it's too bad about Everwood. I think Smallville and Veronica Mars are pretty cool, too. But speaking as a parent, my favorite show — for older teens, anyway — isn't aimed at teens at all: Frontline (PBS). I know, I know: How could I pick something as uncool as an investigative documentary program? But the fact is, teens are awash in escapist entertainment just at the point in their lives where they're about to leave the nest and make their way through the great, big world on their own as young adults. It seems to me that they ought to be able to understand something about the complexity of what's going on out there before they do set out. When it comes to TV shows, I can't think of one that would help them do that better than Frontline. OK, that's enough. Time for my inner fuddy-duddy to go take a nap.
Davis: I guess the question most teens would want answered is when is Degrassi: The Next Generation coming back and what can be divulged about the new season?
Nollinger: Degrassi returns Sept. 29 (on The N). None of the episodes are ready for previewing yet, so I haven't seen anything. But I have learned that the sixth season opens with a two-parter called "Here Comes Your Man," which ought to blow a few minds: Bad boy Sean is back in town. I don't want to spoil it for everybody, but let's just say that's not good news for Peter and Emma — or even Sean, for that matter. "Disaster" is actually a pretty good word for how things turn out by the end of Part 2.
Davis: Has Degrassi been around since the invention of the cathode-ray tube? Or does it just seem that way?
Nollinger: I know what you mean. Jimmy Carter was still president when the original Kids of Degrassi Street miniseries first aired. And I think my own personal cathode-ray tube was still shining in glorious black and white back then. My folks weren't exactly early adopters when it came to newfangled technology such as color TV.
Davis: Canadian kids have lots of problems. Maybe we should start adopting babies from Sasketchewan, before they turn into troubled teens.
Nollinger: Sorry to be selfish about it, but I don't think that would be in our best interest. Teen TV would be a lot more boring without all those screwed-up little Canucks.
Davis: What have you heard about Season 2 of South of Nowhere (The N)?
Nollinger: It's going to be a barrel of laughs — not. Spencer and Ashley wake up totally committed to each other after having finally spent the night together in the first season finale of "Degrassi, American Style" — I mean, South of Nowhere — but something's going to happen right away in "The Morning After" that makes Ashley push her new gal pal away. And Aiden wakes up with Madison and immediately starts trying to figure a way out of the mess he's gotten himself into. Down the road, addiction, hate crimes, outings, death and the arrival of a long-lost sibling are all in the mix. Face it: Life in L.A. is really, really hard.
Davis: Maybe we should start sending our troubled teens to Canada.
Nollinger: I don't think there's enough room.
Davis: Is it true that The N ordered up another season of Whistler?
Nollinger: The jury's still out on that. I think it's an interesting show, and the folks at The N had high hopes for it. But the numbers were pretty disappointing. The rationale for the show was that it would attract more boys to the channel, and it did that. But girls pretty much tuned out. So we'll see. Beyond the Break, on the other hand, is definitely coming back next year. I find that show sort of tawdry and lame, but I guess more kids are interested in watching girls in bikinis than guys in snow parkas. Go figure.
Davis: It looks like MTV is working hard to regain the younger teen viewers who may have migrated over to The N and ABC Family.
Nollinger: Maybe, but if that's the case, I think they're going to have to work a lot harder. What's drawing kids to those networks are teencentric dramas. Most of MTV's new shows for teens — Juvies, Two-a-Days (premiering Aug. 23) and Moves, a Jennifer Lopez-produced show about the lives of struggling professional dancers — are either reality-based or, like My Little Talent Show, a competition. None of these shows has any finished episodes yet, so I have no idea whether they're going to be any good, but none of them really strikes me as having breakout potential in any way. The truth is, I think the creative well at MTV has been running a little dry for some time now. It's been years since they've done something truly original.
Davis: What do you know about My Little Talent Show? Is it meant to be a direct challenge to American Idol? Will there be an obnoxious Brit?
Nollinger: MTV's been pretty quiet about it so far, but I think the fact that they describe it as American Idol meets Napoleon Dynamite implies a rather goofier take on the genre. Given that it's going to air daily at 6 pm/ET, I don't see it challenging American Idol, so much as riding on that show's coattails. There's no obnoxious British judge, but one of the initial guest celebrities on the panel is Constantine Maroulis, who finished sixth on American Idol in 2005. Are you getting excited yet?
Davis: MTV's Two-a-Days sounds like it's something that might have run on ESPN. Why a reality show about a high-school football team? And what happened to Martha Quinn?
Nollinger: Well, ESPN did run its own high-school-football reality series just last year — Bound for Glory, which tracked NFL legend Dick Butkus' efforts to try to turn around a losing team. Two-a-Days sounds like a boy version of Lifetime's Cheerleader Nation, which achieved the seemingly impossible by making the world of competitive cheerleading kind of compelling. If the football players are half as engaging as those girls, I could see it working. Even if it's good, though, it's another example of how MTV seems content to simply follow these days. What used to be cutting-edge is as dull as a butter knife now. Even Martha Quinn — who I think has a radio show on XM — seems cool in comparison these days.
Davis: But didn't video kill the radio star?
In this exclusive video, watch as TV Guide's Michael Davis provides one parent's guide to television.
Coming Friday: An analysis of what TV-ratings mean — and don't mean
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