Tween Steam, Or Wilder Times

Shelley Youngblut has an interesting and long piece in the Calgary Herald about the onslaught of Canadian ‘Tween TV (most of it on the Family Channel), focusing particularly on Brent Piaskoski, creator of The Latest Buzz and writer for Naturally, Sadie, and his wife Barbara Haynes, who is a writer/producer on his shows. (Having attended the live-audience taping of Buzz, I gathered that Piaskoski was a very intense-looking guy and one of the few crew members wearing a suit through the whole thing; as he comments in the article, “people always think I’m kind of angry, but this is just how I look.”)

The article notes some of the other projects they’re developing, including something he mentioned last year: a spinoff about the family life of Buzz‘s breakout character, Wilder — sort of a younger version of Sacha Michell’s brain-damaged surfer-dude character from Step By Step — which, as he noted, is a departure from the tendency of current ‘tween shows to be about kids with no apparent family lives or family units. Though Buzz takes on the Disney wish-fulfilment style and does it better (it has better writing and less overacting than the Disney channel shows of the same type), Family Channel tends to be at its very best when dealing with, well, families — its flagship property, Life With Derek, is still probably the best kids’ comedy here or in the U.S. — so it’s good that they haven’t given up on that kind of show, even if Disney has.

One other point about “family” shows is that with the disappearance of the family show (or, really, any and all kids) from network prime time, one type of show we don’t see much of any more is the show that is aimed at family audiences, but has at least some “adult” content, in the sense that the teenaged characters can talk about sex (though if they actually have it, that’s a “very special” episode). There used to be a bunch of those. Now most of the shows about teenagers are on networks whose target audiences are actually younger than that, so they have what might be called the Archie problem: they are banned from even suggesting the topics that are # 1 on the minds of most real teenagers. I think that’s one reason for the continuing ratings success of Secret Life of the American Teenager; it is one of the few shows that is moral and upstanding enough to be a “family-friendly” show, but is at least allowed to discuss the things that wouldn’t be brought up on the Disney Channel.