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Sunday Brunch: The State of Teen Television

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Brunch isn't really a big deal over here but I love the idea of it - and enjoy going to brunch whilst on holiday. Whenever I'm throwing together ideas for a new story, one of my favourite things to do is go Google Maps-ing for all the nice restaurants in the area. As I have dairy intolerance, I often have to watch what I eat at restaurants so it's not always a fun experience. However, the rise of all those Food Network shows and Pinterest and all the great reviews on Yelp and Chowhound allow me to live vicariously through all you gastronauts. 

So, I thought I'd try and start a new feature (although I'm not good at keeping up features so we'll see) where we go for brunch on a Sunday, anywhere in the world, and have a chat. This week we'll be:

This week, lots of people participated in I Read YA week. Lots of recommendations were floating around and plenty of enthusiastic posts popped up with people declaring why they choose to read YA. Even Rolling Stone produced a list of must-reads (I like to think I'm quite well-versed in YA but I haven't read nearly half the list, so I guess I have a lot of catching up to do). Anyway, all of this made me think: there's a wealth of great YA literature and so many talented YA writers out there, so why is teen television in such dire straits?

I loosely followed the news from this year's Upfronts and watched a number of the new trailers (sooooo many misses but that's a topic for another day) but there are hardly any offerings for teens - and those of us who aren't teens but enjoy teen shows. Don't get me wrong, I love my procedurals but do we really need another NCIS spin off? Why can't we have a new Dawson's Creek? Just scanning the list of new shows, apart from The CW offerings which are primarily geared to young people, there are only two new pickups for teens. There's How To Get Away With Murder (ABC), which is Shonda Rhimes' latest venture set at a law school, and Red Band Society (Fox). Not so many choices.

Now, there are a lot of crossover shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and The Mindy Project and all the reality shows that I'm sure teens watch but just as there's a comprehensive space within literature for young people, shouldn't the same go for TV?  As for the shows that are on the air, I've noticed they're getting dumbed down more and more every year. Everything has to be spelled out for the audience. Take Star-Crossed for example - did the alien characters really need tribal markings to signify their 'otherness'? Smallville was one of my favourite teen shows and as far as I can remember, the non-humans did not have to look different to the humans. I've also noticed that nowadays there is so much packed into a single episode that there's hardly any room for character development. I understand showrunners/writers/everyone involved are scared about cancellations but wouldn't you rather one season of great TV, remembered forever, rather than three seasons you had to fight tooth and nail for that are essentially filled with air? One hallmark of the old shows was character development. What would The Gilmore Girls have been if Rory had to complete 500 tasks in one episode and only spoke to her mother at the end for a pithy, platitude filled summing up? Whatever happened to subtelty and nuance? There's a reason people still flock to quality shows such as Friday Night Lights like mosquitos to a flame. 

I haven't mentioned my own country's offerings because we're not much better and import a lot of US shows (especially the ones on the brink of cancellation come Christmastime, which is SO annoying). However, when we get it right, we get it right. Skins, Misfits, Waterloo Road, Inbetweeners, My Mad Fat Diary, and Youngers to name a few. They're rarely the 'safe', family option but they're often very real and extremely well written. 

As I said in the opening, there are so many talented YA writers out there both published and unpublished. Hollywood seems to agree as we've seen with the slew of adaptations hitting our big screens. TV execs desperately need to get with it and tap into this pool of talent. If you catch your viewers young, they'll most likely stay with you. On the flipside, the likes of Netflix and Amazon could strike gold if they do the same and manage to create a breakout hit like House of Cards. Can't you just imagine something like the Burn for Burn series by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian or Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas or Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman on Netflix? The possibilities are endless. 

Give teens the intelligent, well written shows they deserve. 

So, what do you think about the state of teen television? Do you think there's a gap in the market or are you satisfied with what's already out there?

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