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Teens watching TV shows for insight on parents
NEW YORK -- Cheryl Gottlieb, a teenager from East Meadow, N.Y., watches NBC's 1960s-era drama, "American Dreams," for insight into two people not on television -- her mom and dad.
"My parents grew up during that time," she said. "It's interesting to see what they went through, and the similarities or differences with living in today's society. The main difference is the family spending a lot of time together and eating every meal together."
At a time of resurgence in family television, a new generation of shows are stretching the genre's common definition. And families are seeking them out for unexpected reasons.
Gottlieb was one of 1,000 teenagers surveyed by ElectricArtists, an online marketing firm, about which new television shows they were most excited about this fall.
"American Dreams" and ABC's comedy, "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," topped the list.
In their youth, Gottlieb's mom and dad might have watched a show because it annoyed their parents. But the teenagers who liked these new programs told ElectricArtists it was partly because they could see their parents in the characters.
Stories that provide a window into the time their parents grew up, or focus on families that remind them of their own, are particularly compelling to these youngsters, said Marc Schiller, the company's CEO.
"Shows about families are interesting, because you can see how normal your family actually is," Gottlieb said. "You see problems that other kids your age might face and that may make your problems seem real small."
The creators of both of the new programs say they're fixed on an ideal that's much harder than it sounds: a family show that is equally appealing to both parents and their children.
Traditional family shows tend to offer idealized characters that provide wish fulfillment for viewers, said Jonathan Prince, executive producer of "American Dreams."
As a result, the characters aren't edgy enough for many teenagers. Prince appreciates the WB's "7th Heaven" as a good family show, but said it doesn't ring true to his teenage nieces and nephews.
More often than not, family shows have one portal for viewers instead of two.
Prince has watched "8 Simple Rules" and appreciates how its creators have resisted the temptation to make John Ritter's character the goofy dad who can't keep up with his daughters.
"That's why I think teens have wanted to see it," he said. "I think teens wanted to see a show about a mom and a dad and a real -- albeit very cute -- 16-year-old. It's fresh to these viewers."
That is exactly what he's shooting for, said Tracy Gamble, executive producer of "8 Simple Rules."
He runs situations and dialogue for the show past his teenagers and their friends for a reality check. Most episodes are rooted in his life: a story line where the daughter drives without a license also happened in his family.
Gamble once wrote for "Home Improvement," and he tries to follow that show's example by having something for everybody. He hopes young people who watch the show will leave with some empathy for their own parents.
Parents look at their children the way their own parents looked at them, he said.
"The character Paul continually struggles with his daughters, but really what he's doing is mourning that their time as his little girls is coming to an end," he said.
Prince provides so many entry points for the different generations in "American Dreams" that it's almost dizzying. Adult viewers can relate to the parents, but also to the teenagers, because the show depicts them growing up in the same era.