by Nick Wilkinson
THE HISTORY OF ANGST:
Lets take a trip down memory lane tonight and look back at the history of Teen Angst on TV
Tonight I will provide trailers and highlights from hits (and misses) in the history of angst.
While not the first ever show for teens most agree that Beverly Hills 90210 is the mother-ship of modern teen dramas and a precursor to almost everything that followed.
Following the lives of transplants Brenda and Brandon Walsh 90210 dealt with issues from Rape and HIV to drug abuse and even death… After the show became a success, television writers and producers realized the potential for this new genre to reach out to a previously ignored demographic. In the past, most series with a focus on teenagers had been sitcoms, while adolescents in drama series were usually part of a larger ensemble that included adults and children.
These teen dramas tend to be over exagerated versions of themselves with posh locals (Beverly Hills, The OC, etc) while shows that try to portray teens in a more realistic light have suffered lower ratings and cancellation (Freaks & Geeks, My So Called Life, etc) indicating that viewership among teens is often directly associated with a lifestyle that we all wish we had and not anything based in reality!
NOTE: My So Called Life star Clair Danes would go on to win an Emmy for the hit Showtime series HOMELAND.
The short lived show NEVER TOO YOUNG is considered “The First” teen drama but only lasted one season…
Some teen dramas can also be sub-categorized into genres such as science fiction (e.g. Roswell, Kyle XY), action/adventure (e.g. Smallville), fantasy (e.g. Buffy, Angel, The Vampire Diaries), and mystery (e.g. Veronica Mars, Pretty Little Liars).
The Degrassi universe was created in 1979 by former school teacher Linda Schuyler and her partner Kit Hood. Starting with The Kids of Degrassi Street and then followed by Degrassi Junior High in 1987 which then spawned Degrassi High in 1989 and Degrassi School’s Out in1992. Schuyler and original Degrassi series head writer Yan Moore began developing a new television drama in 1999 which became Degrassi: The Next Generation and originally focused on the character Emma Nelson who was born to young parents in the original series. Progressive for its time Degrassi dealt with abortion, teen suicide, domestic violence and damn near everything modern teens would have to deal with. Still active today, and known simply as Degrassi it has become the longest running teen drama in America.
Degrassi has contributed many modern faces to the teen angst industry including 90210 (the continued series) star Shenae Grimes, The Vampire Diaries Nina Dobrev, RAP Superstar DRAKE and LA Complex’s Cassie Steel, just to name a few.
The creation of the teen-targeting THE WB network in 1995 helped launch a new era for teen-oriented television. After three short years Dawson’s Creek & Buffy The Vampire Slayer would acquire immense fan bases with both shows running for the better part of a decade and each creating its own spin-off (1 notably more successful than the other.
(Buffy spin-off Angel which ran for 5 seasons and like Buffy continues its tales in comic book form.)
(Dawson’s Creek spin-off lasted only 8 eps.)
With the success of shows on Fox and other networks The WB & The UPN television networks also targeted teens.
The UPN created a few notable teen-oriented TV shows as well although most were comedies the most notable of the dramas being the cult hit Veronica Mars which ended its run after 3 seasons despite its popularity and is still rumored to be spawning a theatrical followup.
In late 1994, Paramount announced formation of the United Paramount Network. The new network was a joint venture between Paramount and Chris-Craft Industries. The “U” in UPN came from United Television and the “P” from Paramount. The new network launched on January 16, 1995.
In 2001, UPN acquired Buffy and Roswell for their final seasons from The WB in a public bidding war between the two. On January 24, 2006, UPN parent CBS Corporation and Time Warner, owner of The WB, announced that they were to create a new broadcast network, The CW – for all intents and purposes, a merger of UPN and The WB. UPN quietly went off the air on September 15, three days prior to the launch of The CW ending its existence after 11 years.
In contrast, The WB debuted one week earlier, on January 11, The WB’s schedule was similar to Fox’s when it launched, as it started with one night a week of programming (essentially rendering its affiliates as largely being independent stations initially) and then gradually added additional nights of programming over the course of several seasons: the network started with a two-hour Wednesday night lineup of sitcoms, airing from 8–10 pm. Inspired by Buffy’s success, The WB intentionally shifted the focus of its programming, trying to capture what it perceived to be a untapped market by marketing to the teen demo.
The network’s breakout hit and, arguably, its signature series was Dawson’s Creek, which debuted in January 1998 to what were then the highest ratings in the network’s history. 7th Heaven a struggling series almost immediately saw a 81% increase in its viewership and would go on to have 11 seasons.
With three hit shows in its roster, the WB Television Network continued to build its teen fan base the following season with college drama Felicity and the Wicca-themed Charmed, both of which set new records for the network when they premiered with 7.1 and 7.7 million viewers, respectively.
Charmed had the highest-rated premiere on the network until Smallville broke its record, debuting to 8.4 million viewers in October 2001.
The network also expanded to air original programming on Thursday nights. That season, 7th Heaven garnered The WB the highest ratings it would ever see. The episode airing February 8, 1999 attracted 12.5 million viewers. That season also saw 7th Heaven overtake Dawson’s Creek as the network’s highest rated show.
In the 1999–2000 season, the network expanded once again, adding Friday night programming.
New shows that season included Roswell, Popular and Angel (a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), which premiered with 7.5 million viewers, the second highest premiere for the net at the time. During this season, The WB was the only network to have gains in its audience and each key demographic.
The period from 2003 to 2005 produced only two viable new series, One Tree Hill & Supernatural (both of which have since moved to successor network The CW), and even still their ratings paled in comparison to the ratings peaks of Dawson’s Creek, which had signed off in 2003.
(would go on for 9 amazing Seasons)
It was estimated in 2005 that The WB was viewable by 91.66% of all households, reaching 90,282,480 houses in the United States.
The CW network would take the place of both UPN and The WB. Over a nine month period, it was to be seen which shows from the two networks would cross over to the new CW. In the end, 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Smallville and Supernatural (among other non angst worthy shows) were chosen to move from The WB to the new CW’s Fall 2006 schedule.
Next week we will look into the modern incarnation of THE CW and explore some hits and misses from this still active network.
Until then, stay angsty my friends!