PBS's "American High" Sparks Excitement And Dialogue Among Teens And Adults
Web Traffic Explodes; Teen Viewing Demographics Grow Substantially; PBS Stations And Coca-Cola Mount Local Events for Viewers and Experts to Share Ideas
New York, NY - May 7, 2001 - AMERICAN HIGH, PBS's critically acclaimed documentary series about a Chicago high school, is proving to be a breakout hit on the air, on the Web and in local communities across the country. Web traffic has reached 103,000 visits a week and teen and young-adult viewing in the program's time period has improved as much as 150 percent compared to last year. More than 20 PBS stations have added to the buzz by creating AMERICAN HIGH areas on their Web sites and implementing creative outreach events locally. In addition, Coca-Cola, the program's underwriter, will be sponsoring Town Hall meetings in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago May 21-23, co-hosted by local PBS stations.
The series, created by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker R.J. Cutler, has been overwhelmingly embraced by the media as well. Eric Mink of the New York Daily News has described it as "a startlingly illuminating piece of work, full of heart, heartbreak and hope . . ." while David Bauder of Associated Press calls it "one of the spring's most worthwhile viewing experiences." AMERICAN HIGH is cited as "a bold, provocative, truthful and compelling coming-of-age tale in modern America" by Bob Curtright of the Wichita Eagle and a "cool reality series" by Twist magazine. Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times recommends "using the episodes as a springboard to meaningful discussions and deeper connections" between parents and their high school-age children.
PBS premiered AMERICAN HIGH on April 4, airing two episodes back-to-back every Wednesday from 10 -11 p.m., with the second episode of one week repeated as the first episode of the following week. (Check local listings.) The 13-part series culminates in a one-hour graduation finale on Wednesday, June 20 and then will repeat in its entirety through September. PBS acquired the series from Fox, which had cancelled it after four episodes aired in August 2000.
"It was our hope that this compelling series would create a national dialogue about the issues that teens are facing today," said Pat Mitchell, PBS's president and chief executive officer. "We're very excited that the broadcasts, Web activities and outreach - including a guide for parents - have sparked powerful responses among viewers of all ages and walks of life. Stations tell us that this is a particularly important part of their ongoing service to the community."
"The most remarkable thing we're seeing in emails, on message boards and in-person is the passion that teens and adults have for the show," said Gerry Richman, vice president, national production, of the series' presenting station, TPT/Twin Cities Public Television. "Parents are seeing aspects of teen life that take them back to their own adolescence and give them insight into what their kids are dealing with today. And teens are telling PBS and each other that AMERICAN HIGH is the most real depiction of their lives that they have ever seen on television."
Fans of all ages have flocked to the show's companion site, pbs.org/americanhigh, for a backstage pass and a forum for discussions, making it one of the most heavily trafficked areas of PBS.org. During the week ending March 31 (prior to the series' launch on Wednesday, April 4), the site had more than 22,000 unique visitors. By the week ending April 8, traffic skyrocketed to more than 78,000 visits, and during the week of April 15 increased to more than 103,000 unique visitors.
The site's "Interactive Yearbook" - where participants can create self-portraits, write personal mottos, and decide which celebrity would play them in the movie of their lives - has received more than 13,000 entries. Fans can find new interactive features each week. In the coming weeks, visitors can take an emotional intelligence quiz, listen to a selection of AMERICAN HIGH grad Kaytee Bodle's songs, and get the inside scoop on what the series' grads are up to these days.
PBS secured extraordinarily strong promotion for AMERICAN HIGH through its AOL alliance. AOL built a special package with tune-in information to promote the show and Web site and featured AMERICAN HIGH on the AOL Teens Channel. The program has been featured on every other AOL property: Netscape, Compuserve, and AOL.com. Netscape is promoting the program on its highly trafficked home page every Wednesday.
PBS is also hosting an AMERICAN HIGH chat on Yahoo.com every Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET. Featured guests have included filmmaker R.J. Cutler, students from the show, as well as experts on issues like divorce. More than 1,000 questions were generated in each of the first two chats alone.
The number of young viewers has grown substantially in the Wednesday, 10-11 PM time slot that AMERICAN HIGH occupies, according to Nielsen data. Compared to April 2000, April 2001 viewership has grown 33 percent among 12-17 year-olds; 150 percent among 18-24 year-olds and 67 percent among 15-29 year-olds.* The program has been watched on average in nearly one million households each week since its premiere, according to preliminary estimates by PBS Research.
Coca-Cola is sponsoring Coca-Cola/AMERICAN HIGH Town Hall meetings in Philadelphia (May 21 at WHYY studios), Atlanta (May 22 at Coca-Cola headquarters, co-hosted by Georgia Public Television and WPBA) and Chicago (May 23 at WTTW studios) to use AMERICAN HIGH as a catalyst to promote better parent/teen understanding and communication. These forums with parents, teens and educators will be moderated by prominent psychologist Dr. Mike Riera (author of Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers) and will feature R.J. Cutler as well as parents and teens from the show.
Public television stations have mounted a variety of outreach campaigns to stimulate parent/teen communications. WGBY in Springfield, Mass., held four AMERICAN HIGH screenings for teens accompanied by parents, followed by discussions. KLRN in San Antonio has teamed with teen-oriented station KTFM for on-air discussions and high school visits. In Kansas City, KCPT met with the Kansas City Star newspaper's Teen Star staff for a screening and feedback about the program. Rocky Mountain PBS joined the Denver Public Schools to sponsor a special premiere with high school students, teachers, and administrators. In New York, Thirteen/WNET filmed teens at the 12th annual Teen Leadership Summit talking about their fears, hopes and plans for the future, for segments during the program. WXXI in Rochester held four events at a local mall to highlight such issues as violence in schools and teen pregnancy, with representatives from local communities on hand. KET Kentucky hosted a special roundtable program with adolescent specialists, including a child psychologist and school official, before the series' premiere.
To further extend outreach possibilities, TPT developed a downloadable AMERICAN HIGH Parents' Guide, available to stations and individuals on the program's Web site. The Guide offers a wealth of information and help for parents facing the daunting task of raising teens. TPT has also created a Parenting Workshop Resource Kit to enable stations to conduct workshops on these topics: "Being a Teenager Today," "Parent/Teen Communication" and "Drugs and Alcohol." The kit was developed with input from KCET Hollywood, WETA Washington, D.C.; KCTS Seattle and West Virginia Public Television.
AMERICAN HIGH is produced by Actual Reality Pictures in association with 20th Century Fox Television. R.J. Cutler, Erwin More, Brian Medavoy and Cheryl Stanley serve as executive producers. Major funding by The Coca-Cola Company and your local Coca-Cola bottler.
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*Time period analysis (combined PBS station audiences, including American High and other programs) in the third hour of prime time. NTI Galaxy Explorer, April 2000 vs. April 2001, average ratings.
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