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"Dawson's Creek" characters deal with the consequences after a night of binge drinking.

Teen TV, reckless or responsible?

April 29, 1999
Web posted at: 3:54 p.m. EDT (1954 GMT)

From Sherri Sylvester
CNN Entertainment News Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Television programs aimed at teens are undergoing greater scrutiny in the aftermath of the school shooting in Littleton, Colorado, as parents and educators look for a better understanding of American teen culture.

And the producers of TV's hottest teen programs -- "Dawson's Creek," "Felicity" and "Party of Five" -- appear ready for charges that their programs may glamorize sex, violence, drugs and generally irresponsible behavior.

Key show producers tell CNN that, in fact, they take special care to present violence, sex, and drug use in a responsible way.

The truths and consequences of teen behavior

"We know that what we do affects people's lives," says J.J. Abrams, creator and executive producer of "Felicity," a WB show. "So although our primary goal is to entertain, tell engaging stories with characters that are entertaining, it would be really irresponsible to believe that what we're doing doesn't have an impact."

The program's title character follows her boyfriend to New York City after high school, and is essentially a teen on her own, without parental influence. In one episode, she considers having sex, and the writers, send the character to a health clinic to discuss birth control. Other episodes have dealt with date rape.

"We got responses from people that were just incredible," says Abrams. "They were just unbelievably touching ... people saying, 'I hadn't cried in over a year since I'd been date-raped.'"

Another WB teen favorite is "Dawson's Creek," which has included a segment in which the lead characters got drunk, and then sick. Creator Kevin Williamson says they were careful to show consequences. "You actually have a character who drinks alcohol, wakes up the next morning and has to pay for it and all the damage he did under the influence," says Williamson. "He has to live and breathe with his actions and realize, 'Oh, my God, this is not what I want.'"

FOX Network's "Party of Five" spent an entire season on alcoholism, the plot featuring a family intervention -- although the family, in this case, includes no parents.

TV teens without parents

Fictional adolescents without parents are a trend in teen TV. In "Felicity," "Party of Five," "Guys Like Us" and "Charmed," parenthood is out of the picture. Instead mothers and fathers are absent or deceased.

"Dawson's" creator Williamson insists that when TV shows depict controversial topics, they promote healthy discussions in viewers' homes. "People think about them and they talk about them openly in a way they haven't before. I know that's true," he says.

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation offers some support for that belief. It found that one in four teens said they learn a lot about pregnancy and birth control from the media. Forty percent said they've learned how to talk about such issues with their peers.

And among some very-much-present real-life parents, the Kaiser study found that 70 percent surveyed said family discussions were prompted by television.

On the question of violence on television, concerned parents may need to look beyond dramatic, first-run programs. Some organizations keep tabs on the sheer volume of violent acts seen on television, from cartoons to made-for-TV films. But whether TV content influences children's behavior is an issue that remains unresolved.

Film about kids and gay tolerance sets off controversy
April 5, 1999
Study: TV shows too much sex without responsibility
February 9, 1999
Music videos linked to teen drinking
November 2, 1998
Kids-only TV drawing young viewers
September 25, 1998

The WB
'Dawson's Creek'
Fox TV
'Party of Five'
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