'90210' tackles condoms in high school

February 06, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television critic

BEVERLY HILLS, 90210," the top show with teen viewers, takes on the issue of condom distribution in high schools at 9 tonight on WBFF-TV (Channel 45).

The series ignited a controversy over teen sex when Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and Dylan (Luke Perry) made love on prom night in an episode that aired in May. Other networks followed suit, and several teen characters had their first sexual encounters this fall.

Fox Broadcasting did not make tonight's show available for preview and declined requests for interviews with the producers.

"We hope that this issue will stimulate discussion between children and parents about sexual behavior," executive producer Charles Rosin said in a statement issued by Fox. "Although abstinence is the best form of disease and pregnancy prevention, we do not want to pretend that some kids aren't having sex. We want them to be aware of the risks and act responsibly."

In tonight's episode, Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) petitions the board of education to consider adopting a plan that would make condoms available to the students at West Beverly High School, according to a Fox spokeswoman.

While Rosin declined further comment on tonight's episode, he did talk at length last year about how his show handled sexual content.

"I read the statistics on how many teens are sexually active," he said. "One of the feedbacks we get from our audience is that we are seen to be real. And the moment we lose that verisimilitude, the moment we pander to someone . . . [who says] is this moral enough, we're no longer real. And the moment that we're no longer real, my core audience -- which is teen-agers and now [people] moving into their twenties -- will abdicate the show."

If Fox seems a little nervous about discussing tonight's episode, it probably should not be surprising. While the ratings and the press clippings for the show have been terrific, Fox took a lot of heat for its treatment of sex last year.

Of the sexual encounter between Dylan and Brenda, Fox President Peter Chernin said, "There were a lot of people who said that we never should have allowed it -- that we were out of our minds. It was wrong, it was un-American, it was immoral, etc., they said.

". . .Our goal is to try and balance two things with the series. One is to be as honest and realistic as possible. But, two is to be responsible as broadcasters and to really deal with the issue of teen-age sexuality in as responsible a manner as possible."

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