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A teen drama is a type of dramatic television series in which the focus is on teenage characters. The genre was relatively non-existent for the first 45 years of television; it came into prominence in the 1980s. Previously, most series with a focus on teens had been sitcoms while teens in drama series were usually part of a larger ensemble that included adults and children.

Teen dramas, more often than not, have soap opera elements, allowing the young adult characters to grow and develop over time while facing an array of realistic teen issues. However, there have been many successful teen-based dramas with major themes of science fiction, fantasy, and action/adventure. Also, most shows have a substantial amount of comic relief.

Types of teen dramas

The most popular teen dramas are set in affluent locales (e.g. Beverly Hills 90210, The O.C., Gossip Girl), or in fictional town settings (e.g. Dawson's Creekmarker, One Tree Hill). Most teen dramas have a cast of attractive actors, living a privileged and wealthy life. Shows that depict teen life in a more realistic manner tend not to do nearly as well, although there are exceptions, notable ones being the critically acclaimed My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks, as well as the British teen drama The Inbetweeners. Another being the Canadian-produced Degrassi series. All three Degrassi series; (Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High and Degrassi: The Next Generation), have been very successful in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Some teen dramas can be sub-categorized into genres such as Science Fiction or Comedy. Sci-Fi series like "Smallville", "Roswell", and "Kyle XY" show teenagers who are aliens trying to fit into normal high school life.

Teen dramas by country

United States

The most successful teen dramas are often shown on youth-oriented stations such as Fox and The CW networks. While the least successful shows usually air on the Big Three networks; (CBS, NBC, and ABC). On cable television, most teen dramas can be found on such channels as Disney XD, The N, MTV, Lifetime, Comedy Central and ABC Family. When the shows go into syndication, they usually air on networks like SOAPNet, WGN America, ABC Family, and TVLand.


The first teen-oriented shows didn't call themselves by the actual name "teen drama". One of the earliest was the single-season soap opera Never Too Young, which aired from 1965 to 1966. As the late 1960s and early 1970s progressed, younger viewers began to find relatable characters on more daytime soaps. In 1967, Love is a Many Splendored Thing premiered and quickly became a hit with teen audiences. It was soon followed by All My Children in 1970 and The Young and the Restless in 1973.

In primetime, various shows which centered on the whole family focused much of the attention on the adolescent characters. Such examples include Eight is Enough, Family, Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, and the short-lived James at 15. As a result, young stars like Willie Aames, Kristy MacNichol, and Melissa Gilbert became youth icons.

One of the original teen dramas, Degrassi Junior High and later Degrassi High, became very popular in both Canada and the US while airing on PBS in the late 80s and early 90s.

Several years after Degrassi's premiere, Darren Star created Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1990, along with famous producer Aaron Spelling. The stars of 90210 became instantly popular with young audiences, most notably actress Shannen Doherty and actor Luke Perry. The series became a phenomenon, becoming the #1 show among teen girls in the early 90s. It is often cited as the "King of Teen Drama", because no other series has come close to matching its success. The show remained popular throughout the first half of the 1990s, and remained on the air until 2000, longer than any other teen drama in history.

The next teen drama would be ABC)'s 1994 series My So-Called Life, which launched the careers of young actors Claire Danes and Jared Leto. Although critically acclaimed, it was not a success in ratings, mainly due to sharing a timeslot with NBC's Friends, and was canceled after its first season.

Fox's Party of Five, which also premiered in 1994, became an instant hit with teenage audiences. Stars Matthew Fox and Scott Wolf became teen heartthrobs, and it also launched the careers of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Neve Campbell, and Lacey Chabert.

The creation of the teen-targeting The WB network in 1995 helped launch a whole new era for teen-oriented television. Within three years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicity, and Dawson's Creekmarker premiered, acquiring large teenage fan bases. The family drama 7th Heaven also became popular among teenagers, and made the careers of Barry Watson, Jessica Biel, Beverley Mitchell, David Gallagher, Adam LaVorgna, Ashlee Simpson, George Stults, Haylie Duff and Mackenzie Rosman blossom.

Over the next few years, The WB's Everwood and Gilmore Girls became popular with teenage audiences. Smallville is another example of a successful WB show, as it focuses on the early teenage and young adult life of Superman Clark Kent. Degrassi: The Next Generation also began to have a growing fan base in the United States.

In the early 2000s, teen dramas began experiencing a decline in popularity. Teenagers were now watching shows that featured adults in their twenty- and thirty-somethings like Friends, as well as reality shows and cartoons like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, America's Next Top Model, Family Guy and The Simpsons.

By 2003 though, a whole new set of teen dramas arrived. That fall, The O.C. premiered on Fox while One Tree Hill premiered on The WB. The former became an instant hit among teens, while the latter started rather slowly, but has outlasted the former, now in its seventh season on the CW. Life As We Know It also started around this time.

The O.C.'s avid popularity inspired the MTV reality show Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and The Real Housewives of Orange County. Laguna was structured as an "unscripted" serial drama, akin to The O.C.

In the late 2000s, the genre experienced yet another resurfacing with the appearance of the broadcasting network ABC Family, which launched a whole new set of shows including Greek and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. In addition, The CW contributed to the phenomenon with the creation of Gossip Girl and 90210.

United Kingdom

In the UKmarker, teen dramas are usually aimed at more mature audiences. Examples being Skins, Hollyoaks, Sugar Rush, and The Inbetweeners. All airing on Channel 4 and E4. E4 also airs many US teen drama's, including One Tree Hill, 90210 and The OC. Whilst rival channel, ITV2 shows the teen drama Gossip Girl, Channel Five shows Australian soaps (with teenagers in them) Home and Away and Neighbours.

Soap operas aimed at a wide range of audiences like EastEnders, Emmerdalemarker and Coronation Streetmarker, feature families with teenage children often shown leading more "normal" lifestyles.

Australia/New Zealand

In Australia and New Zealandmarker as well as teen drama's such as Heartbreak High, soaps like Neighbours and Home and Away are aimed at teenagers just like a majority of the Soaps in the UK.


Teen dramas are common on Japanese television. Some of the more popular ones are often adapted from anime or manga, like Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO), Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers), Nodame Cantabile, Zettai Kareshi (Absolute Boyfriend) and Honey and Clover. Most teen dramas of Japan are on a high school setting like Proposal Daisakusen (Operation Love) and Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers).


According to Art Silverblatt in his book Genre Studies in Mass Media: A Handbook, teen dramas focus on "the theme of the adolescent's assertion of independence, which is characteristic of the adolescent stage of development."


See also

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