Teen problems bubble to the surface on soaps particularly in the summer

July 31, 1993|By Lynette Rice | Lynette Rice,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- She's divorced, rich and hates sex. And now she wants her husband back.

As soap operas go, Victoria Newman's plight on "Young and the Restless" is standard daytime fare. But Victoria has one characteristic many of her counterparts don't -- she is only 17.

Teen story lines have become as commonplace on daytime dramas as the she-devil who steals every woman's husband, luring youths to daytime TV once followed largely by homemakers.

The trials and tribulations of teens thrive year-round on the soaps now. Victoria's character on the CBS drama toiled with a stressful marriage -- albeit a celibate one -- for seven months. But many story lines get especially steamy during the summer, when teens are out of school and definitely feeling restless.

Teen crowd swells in summer

"I knew we had a younger audience during the summer for 15 or more years now," says William Bell, lead writer for "Young and the Restless," who helped create the daytime drama in 1973.

"I've always done a very powerful story line aimed at young people from which they could learn, where they are exposed to things they might very well be exposed to in their personal lives," Mr. Bell says.

This summer is not so serious on "Young and the Restless," but it is provocative nevertheless. Victoria (played by 16-year-old Heather Tom) falls for a stable boy at the family ranch, the same young man her mother has been eyeing for weeks.

Like her producers, Ms. Tom believes her life as Victoria mirrors American teen life. Ms. Tom says she received many letters from young women who had sex long before they were ready.

"Granted, I don't know many 17-year-olds who run off and get married," says Ms. Tom, cuddled up on a couch in her small dressing room. "But I do think the sex aspect is very possible.

'Not all peaches and cream'

"I'm glad we have a story line about not hopping in bed. . . . In fact, maybe it's just not right. Maybe she doesn't like it and can't trust the guy. It's not all peaches and cream."

Other soaps are cultivating summer teen story lines with equal fervor.

On ABC's "General Hospital," Karen breaks up with the dreamboat Jagger after realizing childhood abuse by her mother's boyfriend has prevented her from relating well to men. Her storybook life as the high school valedictorian begins to unravel when the perpetrator shows up again, taunting her about the sexual abuse and how he believes she actually enjoyed it.

On ABC's "All My Children," an African-American teen named Terrence was beat up and his home destroyed by a white hate group that thrives on his college campus. Terrence, who has an African-American mother and a white stepfather, wants students to boycott classes until the white hate group, Deconstruction, is banned from campus.

And on NBC's "Days of Our Lives," 15-year-old Sami became bulimic after dealing with the stress of discovering that her mother was having an affair. Other than confiding in her best friend, Sami has kept the secret of her mother's infidelity, knowing the information has the power to shatter many lives.

"I think that even though this particular story line addresses teens, I think the problem also is for mothers of teens, fathers of teens and anyone going to have a teen," says Alison Sweeney, the 16-year-old actress who plays Sami. "I think we do try to appeal to certain groups, but it ends up being for everybody."

A Massachusetts children's television consultant disagrees. Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children's Television, says daytime dramas paint a crude picture of life that adults may laugh at but no child should emulate.

Soaps don't help teens

"Soap operas are not about taking care of emotional and developmental needs of teen-agers, and nobody in their right mind would believe that is what they are doing," says Ms. Charren, who helped enact a 1990 law that requires each TV station to provide educational shows for children.

"There's the sort of message on how to screw up a marriage that is not terrific for most teen-agers," she says. "Incest in the afternoon is not really terrific."

Daytime dramas, instead, should do what "Beverly Hills, 90210" is doing, Ms. Charren says -- make soap operas for youths.

That's just what an Australian production company had in mind.

New World International, in conjunction with Village Road Show Pictures, created "Paradise Beach," a half-hour soap opera that is not only the first to be syndicated but the first to cater primarily to teen-agers, says Jock Blair, the show's producer.

Videotaped in northern Australia -- where it's "good one day and beautiful the next," producers say -- the show centers on a blond brother and sister who left home to find new lives at the ocean's edge. Tori longs to be a model; Shawn would settle for the Ironman title.

Launched in early June, "Paradise Beach" is already attracting a small but dedicated audience in the 5:30 p.m. slot in its native country while appearing in similar time slots throughout 90 percent of the United States, Mr. Blair says.

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