New TV series offers drama for teen-agers

Lou Grant, look out. There is going to be a new newspaper show on television tackling difficult issues in its audience's lives. The topics this newspaper will deal with include drugs, rape, teen-age pregnancy, gangs, and teachers who are assaulted. And the reporters aren't exactly graduates of highfalutin journalism schools. They are high school students.

"The New Voice," a weekly series created and produced by WGBH Boston for broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) beginning next fall, is the story of six students who work to revitalize an old school newspaper at Abraham Lincoln High School. And despite the tough subjects they cover, the students have a good time doing it.

"The show is pretty exact about problems that we deal with as teens," says Lorraine Gauli, a 17-year-old high school student from New Jersey who plays the part of Lorraine Green, an energetic sophomore staff member. "Sure, its purpose is to educate teenagers, but it's also a lot of fun."

Larry Scott, an 18-year-old actor from New York City who plays the part of Larry Kane, staff artist, says, "It doesn't beat around the bush.Kids can either accept the show or reject it. I think they'll accept it. A lot of television shows just don't deal with these issues."

The idea was spawned by the cultural affairs director of WGBH, Henry Maldonado, and is funded by a grant from the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The executive producer is Frank Marrero and the producer is Bob Glover.

One basic goal of the show is to reduce minority isolation. The newspaper staffers, played mostly by teen-agers, deal with problems that cross race or cultural lines.

"We want to break stereotypes and present the kids as they are," Mr. Glover says. "There is a kind of legitimacy about seeing these topics dealt with on television."

The mix of "students" is somewhat typical of urban high schools throughout the country. Larry is black and Lorraine is white. Other characters range from an Indian student newly transfered from a reservation to the student who plays editor-in-chief of "The New Voice," who is Japanese. One staff writer is Puerto Rican, and the paper's business manager is of Mexican background.

Surveys were done by WGBH last year to find out what concerns teenagers had on their minds. They brought up such topics as homosexuality, racism, alcoholism, and suicide. The show seeks to explore these issues while encouraging a positive regard for ethnic and racial groups, portraying the diversity within society, and providing a forum to support and encourage a teen's process of questioning and forming opinions.

"'The New View' parallels 'The White Shadow' [on commercial television], but we are not set in our ways," says Larry. "There is no correct answer to a problem. Every answer is different for every person."

None of the issues is actually resolved on the show. The program that deals with teen-age pregnancy, for example, ends with the boy and the girl deciding to work together to come to a decision about what to do.

Says producer Bob Glover, "In the dialogue, all the options are presented -- such as having the child and giving it up for adoption, letting the mother raise it, letting the father raise it, or having an abortion," he says. What the two students finally decide to do is not shown.

"We try to leave it to the teens to think about it," Mr. Glover says.

The fictional studio dramas are combined with real-life film documentaries that will make up a portion of each program. During the program on suicide, for example, a documentary focuses on a real family that suffered the loss of a teen.

The actors and actresses are impressed with the real-life segments. Their enthusiasm for the series is evident as they film in the station's Allston television studios.

"The documentaries talk about the problems really deeply," comments Lorraine, who says she has learned a lot from the show.

There is great potential to impact teens, Bob Glover says. WGBH has developed study guides for the programs and hopes it will be discussed at school and in homes. But he also admits that some PBS stations may have trouble with the very frank series when it airs in the fall.

"There are some very tense, potentially volatile scenes," he says. The producers are convinced that only this sort of realistic portrayal of student life will win teen viewers. They predict that the shows will be seen as positive and fun, as well as drama.

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