And that's the case, explains Mark Harris, even when the shows are about people in their 30s and 40s

By Mark Harris
Updated September 24, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Teens rule the fall TV season

You all know about the teen entertainment boom already. If you don’t, you must have missed the promos for the approximately 112 new fall TV series set in high schools and featuring vicious blond girls snarling ”WhatEVER!” at the camera. But what you may not know is this: The revolution is over. Teens have won.

I’m learning this the hard way. You see, this season is the first in which I won’t belong to the most coveted club in the world, the 18-to-34-years-old demographic. The Holy Grail, the Madison Avenue manna, the lifeblood of a thousand network development execs. I’ve been demoted to the 35-to-49-years-old group — less cool, less real, of interest only for their disposable income and the possibility that they may eventually produce new 18- to 34-year-olds. When the only joy you can draw from ”Beverly Hills, 90210” is the certainty that Luke Perry will always have more wrinkles than you and Ian Ziering will always have less hair, time has passed you by.

So I went in search of some ADULT television, and here’s what I found: Adults have become teenagers. I checked out the pilot of NBC’s ”The Mike O’Malley Show,” the entire concept of which is apparently: Here’s some guy — please watch him. Mike is 30 and having a crisis. He doesn’t want to grow up. He likes being an aging dorm rat, and we’re supposed to cheer him on.

Arrested adolescence doesn’t look good on someone with male pattern baldness, so I moved on to Fox’s ”Get Real,” a ”dramedy” (never good news) about a 35-year-old couple raising their three kids. Thirty-five! This sounded promising. But no. Unfortunately, these parents (played by former adults Jon Tenney and Debrah Farentino) are boobs — sullen, silly, grossed out at having to make, like, hard decisions. In other words, they are history’s oldest living teen parents. I wouldn’t let them raise gerbils.

I was sure CBS would have something for me. CBS is a network I hope never to be old enough to truly enjoy. Its demographic is 50-year-olds-and-up… and over… and out. One of their new dramas, ”Judging Amy,” features ”NYPD Blue” alumna Amy Brenneman as a judge… a real, adult profession, or so I thought. But every few minutes, a couple of odd, black-and-white still photographs of a little girl would appear on screen, and I learned with mounting horror that this was LITTLE Amy, the inner child of grown-up Amy, who is still a little girl inside, scared of all her grown-up duties and running to her mommy (scary Tyne Daly). Dear God. By the end of the pilot, I realized that I had come dangerously close to experiencing what it must be like to watch an entire episode of ”Providence”.

Last stop: ABC’s new sitcom about three guys — old friends, two straight, one gay. With the title ”Oh, Grow Up” I was sure I was headed in the right direction. Well, no. ”Oh, Grow Up” is a celebration of men as perpetual boys — goofy, doofy, dorky, lovable. If I had read EW’s Fall TV Preview more carefully, I would have discovered that the message of the show, according to its creator Alan Ball, is ”Aren’t men funny and sweet and a little lost?” Excuse me… must stop typing… something is rising in my throat.

Ah, that’s better. To get back to the subject, Alan Ball is also responsible for the best-reviewed movie of the year so far, ”American Beauty.” Finally, critics have sighed, a movie for adults, about adults. There’ll be plenty of time to argue about ” Beauty” between now and next spring’s Oscars (my bet is that, along with ”Fight Club”, it’ll be the year’s love-it-or-hate-it film), but for now, please note: Ball’s screenplay is about (among other things) a 42-year-old journalist (Kevin Spacey) — a lumpy loser trapped in a dead-end job, a joyless marriage, and a sagging body — who decides to chuck it all and LIVE FREE. He does this by quitting his job to work in a fast-food drive-thru, getting stoned, blasting music, buying a cool car, embracing his horniness, and saying things like ”I rule!”

Spacey, of course, is incapable of saying ”I rule!” without irony, but you get the picture: Our inner 19-year-old is our purest, most unhypocritical, truest self. And if you don’t believe that, Hollywood has a message for you: Oh, grow up.

I’m Andy Rooney. Thanks for listening.

American Beauty

  • Movie
  • R
  • 121 minutes
  • Sam Mendes