During an earlier era on television, teens hung out at the malt shop or the burger joint. But today their meeting place is the mall -- and many of them work there.
What better place to set an earnest new miniseries aimed at teen viewers?
"Summer Stories: The Mall," a three-part edition of the "ABC Afterschool Special," premieres at 4 p.m. today (on Channel 13), with additional segments scheduled for the same time April 2 and 16 . The network calls it the first miniseries designed for this viewing period.
Like the Nanuet Mall of Rockland County, N.Y., where it was primarily filmed, "Summer Stories" has a scrubbed feeling, a vague artificiality. It falls somewhat short of conveying the grittiness of teen reality, particularly in language.
But the miniseries does address some of the challenges facing young people today.
Work is one example. The key characters, recent high school graduates facing decisions about their futures, all have jobs at the mall. And a useful work lesson forms an important element in one plot line.
Samaria Graham portrays Marla, a girl who fails to get a promotion because of an attitude problem. Meanwhile, she faces the remarriage of her mother and takes some parental responsibility for a younger sister. (Her story comprises the heart of Part 2.)
The first segment today focuses largely on Sarah (Mara Hobel), an adopted girl who receives a bouquet of flowers on graduation day from an unexpected giver: her biological mother.
Should Sarah agree to see the woman? And how will those she has always called Mom and Dad (Barbara Barrie and William Wise) react?
The story is done with sensitivity, particularly in its willingness to portray uncertainty and fear on the part of adults.
Her adoptive parents do not know how to support Sarah, and for the first time in her experience they fail to offer any advice. And as the birth mother, Kelly Bishop projects anguish over her decision to give her daughter up for adoption, telling the girl she has never met, "I could barely take care of myself, how could I be anybody's parent?"
The third principal story involves Diane (Jorjan Fox), a former drug abuser struggling to stay clean while being pressured by a former drug-dealing boyfriend to resume their relationship.
Weaving through the stories as comic relief, young rock band member Spinner (Sandy Gaberman) falls for a girl (Marisol Massey) who's already engaged. Trouble is, he just can't get up the nerve to ask her out.
Given the viewing alternatives at 4 p.m. weekdays -- primarily tawdry talk shows, cartoons and series reruns -- "Summer Stories" offers young viewers some characters they might actually come to like.
On The Weekend Watch:
THE NET GAME -- Here it comes, the annual frenzy known as "March Madness" -- really the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament that determines the best college hoops team in the nation. CBS has it (Channel 11), and first-round action in the annual countdown to the Final Four today includes a quartet of games from Greensboro, N.C., Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Boise, Idaho. The daytime block begins at noon and the prime-time package starts at 8 p.m. Check TV listings for additional coverage.
MAYOR SCHMOKE'S NEIGHBORHOOD -- Community leaders joined Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke earlier this week at the Channel 54 studios to tape a special edition of "The Mayor's Show," which can be seen at 10 tonight on the local independent station. The subject is neighborhood crime, and Mr. Schmoke serves as host of the wide-ranging discussion.
NOSING INTO NEWS -- Two new documentaries probe problems on Friday night. In "The Brokaw Report" at 8 p.m. on NBC (Channel 2), anchor Tom Brokaw seeks to profile an average family whose general status is given away by the subtitle: "Families in Crisis." And at 9 p.m. on cable's good "Investigative Reports" series, host Bill Kurtis presents results of a new probe into the December 1985 crash in Gander, Newfoundland, of a U.S. transport jet with 250 soldiers aboard. Was a bomb aboard? And did a weapons deal with the Nicaraguan contras have something to do with it?
THE MOVIE MARQUEE -- Maryland Public Television on Friday screens the warm comedy "No Time for Sergeants," in which one of television's most durable stars made his debut. He's Andy Griffith ("Matlock"), of course. The droll 1958 movie also marked a trivia oddity: It actually resulted from a TV show. The funny tale of a country boy drafted into the Army was first seen in 1955 on "The U.S. Steel Hour," then adapted for Broadway before being turned into a film. A TV series (unsuccessful) followed, too.
THE CABLE CONNECTION -- The premium Showtime service on Saturday at 9 p.m. premieres a new movie. In "Black Magic," filmed on location in graceful Wilmington, N.C., Judge Reinhold plays a New York architect investigating the disappearance of a cousin, and Rachel Ward is the missing man's girlfriend, who bewitches him into conspiracy.
THE PIGSKIN GAME -- Believe it or not, a new football season begins this weekend. That's the "World League of American Football," the spring league with an international cast, which begins play in a double-header Sunday on ABC (Channel 13) at 1 p.m. The New York/New Jersey Knights meet the London Monarchs in the first game, followed by the Ohio Glory and the Orlando Thunder from Florida.