When is enough really enough? When it comes to reality television, hopefully the bottom is about to be reached with CBS’ upcoming show on high school students at New York City’s York Preparatory School. As a 1985 graduate of the school and its student-body vice president, I speak for my fellow alumni in expressing disgust and sadness over this development.
The New York Post said the series “will be modeled after MTV’s hit reality series Laguna Beach, which follows a California high school clique of mostly gorgeous, tan blondes as they navigate love triangles and spending sprees.”
There is so much more to high school than that. High school is not a soap opera or made-for-TV movie designed to make money for its advertisers/sponsors. It is a delicate ecosystem in which teenagers take their first steps toward maturity and adulthood. It is a time of critical learning, along with significant physical, personal and social development. To extract the shallowest elements of this experience for commercialization is both degrading and detestable.
Who will benefit from this sort of spectacle? Will it be the viewers who observe this mind-numbing trash and mistakenly believe it represents the high school experience? Will it be the subjects of the program, who will be reduced to caricatures? No, it will be CBS, the sponsors and York Prep, which undoubtedly will reap “fame” from the exposure.
In response to my days at York, where I had to deal with everyday realities such as peer pressure, divorce, drugs, school violence, harassment, prejudice and body-image issues, I created and produced a television pilot called Anything’s Possible!. It’s my attempt to deliver meaningful and empowering programming for and about teenagers.
The format involves interviews with notable celebrities, with a focus on their teenage years and their accomplishments as students. It was backed by a prominent Hollywood executive and numerous entertainment personalities.
TV executives say they found my project worthwhile and long overdue. While I have not yet been able to take the show beyond the pilot phase, I am more convinced than ever that the time for quality, inspiring, teen-focused television content is drawing near. I plan to be there.
A message to the media: There is a lot of good you can be doing for teenagers. What are you waiting for? There is a tremendous amount of good going on in every high school throughout the country.
The current and future crop of U.S. teenagers is family and community-oriented, technologically savvy, globally aware and motivated to succeed. America’s future, resting on the backs of these teenagers, looks to be enormously bright. Isn’t that a reality worth televising?
Klinger, an independent TV producer, is founder of People Power Productions.