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When TV Shows Go To College, They Fail To Make The Grade

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When TV Shows Go To College, They Fail To Make The Grade

When TV Shows Go To College, They Fail To Make The Grade

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/161067501/161103596" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Plenty of familiar shows will return with new episodes this fall. Among them, "Glee," now in its fourth season on Fox. This year the show makes a big leap, sending some of its main characters off to college. It's a tough transition for any show. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, plenty have tried before and flunked.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Shows that take place in college just don't seem to work very well. You're probably thinking right now about counter examples. So let's get those out of the way. "The Big Bang Theory."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BIG BANG THEORY")

ULABY: Those guys aren't in college. They already have their doctorates. "Undeclared and Greek" did not last. Or, that "Cosby Show" spinoff, set at a historically black college.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A DIFFERENT WORLD")

ULABY: "A Different World" did fine on NBC, but it wasn't a monstrous hit, not compared to a lot of shows set in high school or just after college. What about "Community," NBC's scrappy comedy set at a community college? Great show, not remotely a hit. And even from the beginning, it modeled itself on a movie about high school students.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COMMUNITY")

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB")

ULABY: There's something about high school that makes for great television, says TV writer Dan Berendsen. Something about that Breafast Clubby essence of it.

DAN BERENDSEN: Everybody's locked in a building together all day long, going through the same experience. You feel like you're in that bubble forever and there's a community, and there's politics and there's cliques and what if I'm not invited to that dance? And everything's the most important thing.

ULABY: TV executive Susanne Daniels agrees. She used to run an entire network aimed at college-aged kids.

SUSANNE DANIELS: I have tried over the years to develop some college-based shows. And inevitably they don't really do well.

ULABY: Daniels ran the WB, back when it aired the show, "Felicity," about a curly-haired co-ed who follows her high school crush to the made up University of New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FELICITY")

ULABY: Robert Browning. The glorious angst of Robert Browning cannot compare to the glorious angst and adolescent drama drenching high schools, says Susanne Daniels. Remember, she says, all those epic struggles against your parents, plus those high school firsts.

DANIELS: First boyfriend, first kiss, first big exam that we flunked.

ULABY: When a high school show, such as "Glee," moves to college, it's risky.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GLEE")

ULABY: That transition is apparently harder for television shows than it is for kids in real life. When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" went from high school to college, fans complained it was one of the weakest seasons. Same with shows ranging from "Veronica Mars" to "Happy Days."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HAPPY DAYS")

ULABY: It helps in television storytelling that high schools students tend to have fixed personas - jock, theater queen, nerd. In college you can try on different identities. Who you are is more in flux, says TV writer Dan Berenson.

BERENDSEN: And it's not 'til you go back out into the real world after college that you start to establish who you're gonna be and then you recollect a family.

ULABY: Berenson created a hit for ABC Family called "Baby Daddy." And he says the best shows are about families, chosen or literal. "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Modern Family."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

ULABY: "The Simpsons."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

ULABY: "The Simpsons" was S-M-A-R-T. Homer's stint in college lasted only one episode. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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