Two new series explore a teenage taboo

Tue Jul 1, 2008 3:12pm EDT
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - With teen pregnancy rates on the rise for the first time in more than a decade, two new TV series are gaining attention as they tackle the hot-button issue from very different angles.

NBC's reality show "The Baby Borrowers," which debuted last week, is giving teen couples a "Scared Straight"-style introduction to the realities of child rearing, while ABC Family's drama "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," which premieres Tuesday night, deliberately avoids having a social-message agenda.

The shows arrive following a wave of pregnancy-related media headlines: The unplanned pregnancy story lines of theatrical hits "Juno" and "Knocked Up," the 17 Boston-area teens who supposedly made a pact to become pregnant, and the pregnancy of 16-year-old Nickelodeon star Jamie Lynn Spears.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor Jane Brown, who runs the Teen Media Project, said the media's portrayal of teen pregnancy is having an impact that some have dubbed "The 'Juno' Effect."

"It may have had a kind of agenda-setting effect, and that's what may have happened with 'Juno,' 'Knocked Up' and the celebrity baby-bump watch we're on -- all that is glamorized pregnancy," Brown said.

The media fascination with pregnancy comes after U.S. teen birth rates rose 3% between 2005 and 2006, after declining 34% between 1991 and 2005, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say it's unclear if the rise in pregnancy rates is tied to any specific societal cause or is just an aberration.

The increased media attention on teen pregnancy has made the topic fertile ground for the networks. NBC's "Borrowers" gave NBC its best new series debut rating all summer. The series has also drawn praise for showing the work required to parent a child.

"The timing has been amazing," "Borrowers" creator Richard McKerrow said. "Obviously it's not good news that there are things such as girls having a pregnancy pact, but it's great that NBC had the courage to commission this. All the research tells us (teen moms having babies) is not emotionally or mentally the best scenario, but that does not mean it's always a bad scenario. This show is saying, 'Don't grow up too fast, just enjoy life, you don't need all that right now."'   Continued...

<p>A pregnant model showcases a costume during a maternity fashion show in New Delhi August 25, 2007. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi</p>