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New shows like the WB's "Charmed" portray kids without parents -- the theme is proving successful

Kids-only TV drawing young viewers

Web posted on: Friday, September 25, 1998 2:58:02 PM

From Correspondent Jill Brooke

NEW YORK (CNN) -- When many of today's parents and grandparents were children themselves, "Father Knows Best" was one of TV's top shows, with Robert Young and Jane Wyatt personifying TV's role in portraying parenthood.

Good luck trying to find that kind of father figure on TV now, though: Networks have found that minimizing the parent's part in shows, or removing the folks altogether, is good for ratings.

The trend comes as debate rages over what children should watch on TV, and whether their friends have more influence on kids than their parents do.

About a year ago, most cable and broadcast networks began using detailed ratings that included the letters V, S, L and D to warn of violence, sex, questionable language and dialogue in shows on the air.

Now, a study commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that 79 percent of shows with violence did not carry a V, and 92 percent of shows with sex didn't carry an S.

There was no TV rating system when "Father Knows Best" was on. And if the show were still on, there's no guarantee that anybody would be watching.

"Felicity" is about a teen-age girl striking out on her own

'It's about finding who you are'

Instead, upstart television networks like WB and UPN are catering to the younger set by providing shows with storylines in which Mom and Dad are out of the picture.

Just look at the premise behind WB's hot new show, "Felicity" -- a high school graduate leaves behind her family in California to chase after a boy attending college in New York City.

"I think it's real, I really do," says "Felicity" star Keri Russell. "It's about finding out who you are and being able to make decisions, right or wrong."

"Guys Like Us," "Party of Five" and "Charmed" have also taken parenthood out of the picture, portraying instead families with absent or deceased parents.

"Dawson's Creek," dealing with teen-age issues, was an instant hit for the WB network

Ratings boost

Focusing on how kids relate to other kids has definitely been the right formula for several networks. Nickelodeon now attracts more young viewers than any other network.

"What we have found is that kids are responding to (the idea) that there are other kids out there that are having the same experiences that they're having," says Cyma Zarghami, executive vice president for the network.

On WB, ratings exploded when the network put on programs focusing on teen-age life such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek."

"As a teen-ager growing up there weren't things to watch," says "Buffy" star Sarah Michelle Gellar. "There weren't positive role models. There were shows that talked down to us, and they didn't give us credit for being intelligent."

Parent's job harder

But not everyone welcomes the trend. Leslie Lampert of Ladies Home Journal says there are consequences to these kids-only shows -- kids experimenting with sex, kids talking back.

"It makes the job of the parent harder, because what's being depicted as cool on TV is going against what we are trying to teach them at home," says Lampert.

Obviously, parents still play an important role on TV as well as in real life.

But expect more kid shows in the future, because television is in the business of attracting an audience. And in this cluttered and very competitive marketplace, producers are looking for any edge they can get.

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