Teen Dramas Research: How Have Teen Dramas Changed?
Teen drama is a genre of show that focuses on teenagers and their lives, often these shows address certain social issues that would be appropriate for the age group they have targeted, although many shows differ on how they handle these issues, Skins for example doesn’t wish to provide a deep underlying meaning beneath the show and its characters, the writers just aim to portray their and the public’s idea of a typical British college student, whereas a tamer show like Hollyoaks addresses social issues in a way where they can almost provide an answer, as they like to portray the predictable solution that solves the problem with a happy ending, rather than “Skins” where the character just copes with the problem which may not be the most politically correct solution.
The earliest example of a UK teen drama is Grange Hill. Phil Redmond (Writer) wanted to show a harsh depiction of high school life, rather than the tame, idealistic school life that had been shown in previous dramas. This caused controversy with the public which lead to the BBC having to force Redmond to tone things down in the show with the risk of the series being terminated. This was the start of the real representation of teen life in these dramas, as the idea of changing typical conventions in a drama had never been applied before, Redmond was very much “breaking new ground” by doing this. Although Redmond had been shunned by the BBC heads, he didn’t stop wanting to apply this new idea to the drama as this turned out to be the show’s most favourable characteristic, the public enjoyed watching the realistic portrayals of teenage life, this especially appealed to teenagers as they could relate to the problems raised by the show. In the Grange Hills later years, it carried on covering dis-regarded storylines like rape, drug addiction, mental health, knife crime and sexuality. The most controversial of the few was the storyline that tackled rape. This raised many complaints and ultimately stopped the dramas ability to tackle social issues through its storylines, even though Redmond has been quoted saying “the programme had been “robbed of its original purpose”. In the dramas ending years, Redmond had wanted to bring the show “back to its original roots”, Plans and scripts for the next series had a much larger emphasis on a younger age group, with much more innocent themes like theft and rules, rather than harsher themes like rape and addiction. Once Redmond had heard these changes were being brought to the show, he had called for Grange Hill to be axed. As he believed it wasn’t his show anymore. The drama came to an end in 2008 leaving behind a pathway, influencing many shows with Redmond’s idea of representing the teenage life in a semi-realistic way. Society in this age were rather more quiet about such “hush” issues such as sexuality and substance abuse, people could see such social issues as embarrassing and “not to be talked about”, looking at such a “shy” society I can see why such issues would raise complaints from the public and why Redmond was forced to tone things down in Grange Hill. This I think contrasts with the current mind-set as I think issues addressed in Grange Hill aren’t that shocking and embarrassing to talk about, personally I think the issues compared to the issues raised on modern teen dramas are actually quite tame in comparison. Although I was brought up in a society where issues like this weren’t that shocking, so when problems like this are shown on television, I can find it relatable and interesting to watch. This is probably a main reason current teen dramas have such popularity, because themes such as social issues aren’t seen as morbid, but interesting and as good “TV” material.
Hollyoaks was probably the next teen drama to use similar themes from Grange Hill; this is due to the show actually being created by Phil Redmond in 1995. Redmond’s aim for Hollyoaks was almost exactly the same as it was for Grange Hill; the only factor to differ was that the series wasn’t based -on a school but a whole town. Hollyoaks has been credited for tackling difficult issues that affect young people in sensitive and intelligent ways; this is the one of the main attributes of the show that attracts the teen audience as they can find ways of relating to the show, whether that relation is personal or conceptual. It isn’t a surprise on how successful Hollyoaks has been with engaging with the younger audience, which doesn’t come as surprise as Redmond’s initial ideas had set up the perfect “theme” for the drama, I personally think that Hollyoaks is what Redmond had planned Grange Hill to be, although the BBC had slowed his ideas to a halt. The current writers and producers still carry on with the theme of social issues, which over the years have addressed issues of teenage pregnancy to shop lifting, to more morbid issues like alcoholism, drug abuse, rape and cancer all of which would affect a certain minority of the target audience. Their aims and purpose are clear, past the aim of making a good show, they do like to provide “solutions” as such to the problems they address, at the end of a theme heavy episode where an issue is addressed, they will put contact details for a hotline at the end of that episode, whether this is to fulfil a contract made with their leading board or if the producers are actually socially aware of the impact their show can have is dependent of the aim of the producers and writers. Looking at the show in comparison to the earlier series of Grange Hill, you sense a social growth from the public as these issues are seen as more of a storyline rather than a harsh issue, this could be public obliviousness as they have seen worse things in worse shows, or whether shows like Grange Hill have broken a particular barrier where harsh social issues in television dramas aren’t a surprise isn’t for me to find out, however looking at the spectrum of modern media, it does seem like television dramas, especially teen dramas certainly have more violent and melancholic themes, which as I mentioned before could just be a normal thing now.
I think at the current contemporary state that teen dramas are in now, I don’t think that addressing social issues is a new thing, in fact I would argue that the social issue theme is almost a cliché with teen dramas, which could be a negative thing as from personal experience, younger people find the issues cheesy and almost patronising. This is why I think the newer dramas like Skins are more popular, as they break away from the innocent cliché of social issues, and address them in a totally different way, an example would be the Hollyoaks and skins addressing the issue of anorexia, the way Hollyoaks had presented the character suffering from anorexia to the way Skins would is completely different. In Hollyoaks the characters friends are very supportive and she basically solves the issue in less than two episodes, whereas the Skins anorexia episode had a rather more dark theme to it, the character suffering with anorexia went through the whole day struggling to eat, and even had to lie to her friends and pretend she was eating and that everything in her life was fine, the episode ended with the issue being un-solved, and it was left as that, since the characters debut to the characters last appearance her problem was never solved, this is why I think teens in particular can associate themselves with dramas like Skins, because we live in a society where these problems aren’t things to be made a big deal out of, a lot of the younger generation like to keep such morbid issues quiet and don’t wish to share it with anyone. This specific example is a clear association on why younger people can relate with the later, more contemporary teen dramas, rather than the earlier dramas that can be seen as belittling to teenagers. Although these mind-sets aren’t the most “PC” in the traditional sense, it is a successful way of connecting with there target audience in a way that is almost ironic, as the dramas bring up the issue almost reminding the viewer that the problem is their whether you pay attention to it or not, although this could be a more conceptual view on the shows and their intent on addressing social issues.