Oh Grow Up Article

The cast of ABC's Oh Grow Up

New York Times, September 23, 1999

Wow! A new Sitcom About Five Singles!

HELP! Is there anyone at the television networks interested in shows for viewers over 35? Is there a world beyond 20-something angst in which roommates in improbably fancy apartments are obsessed with two quite boring issues, the boys worried about commitment, the girls looking for Mr. Perfect? Do viewers really crave more than one show with a happy gay roommate (a trend since the success of Will and Grace, a series about a woman and her gay roommate)?

Within the last few days in New York City the television networks have shown snippets of prime-time shows to advertisers and unveiled their fall schedules. For an outsider wandering in, the message was unmistakable: Anyone over 35 should forget network television (with some exceptions, including several new edgy shows on FOX) and switch to old movies. Or beg HBO to rerun The Sopranos, its hit drama about a Mafia don on Prozac, five nights a week.

What made the annual rite of spring so bleak was the degree of cynicism and self-satisfaction among television executives and writer-producers who proudly showed off their newest sitcoms and seemed in denial over just how terrible they were. The faint scent of doom in the air -- that of the major networks watching their audiences erode with the growth of the internet and cable -- failed to dampen the strange euphoria among executives at the fancy parties following each screening.

No network executives or writer-directors quite matched those at the WB Network, which prides itself as the only one set up to appeal entirely to "12- to 34-year-olds and that's it," according to Jamie Kellner, the WB president. But because the network has been successful with Seventh Heaven (which appeals to families) Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek, there was a heavy does of preening. One network executive described WB as "hip, exciting, cool and fresh," adding: "We know who we are. We think we know what you need."

WB seems to be succeeding on this kind of fare. The other networks are struggling. And what was surprising about the sitcoms of the other networks was not only the tepid quality of so many of them, but their derivative nature. The success of Friends (see above about 20-somethings obsessed with boring issues), has touched off a tidal wave of other shows about more or less the same people.

Isn't there a world beyond fake 20-something angst?


--Bernard Weinraub

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