ATX Television Festival: Life After (TV) High School

A panel all about my favorite kind of TV!

photo by Maggie Boyd

The last panel I attended at this year's ATX Television Festival was one of my favorites. Like last year's YA TV panel, Life After (TV) High School featured the creatives behind some of the best young adult/high school television: Julie Plec (Dawson's CreekThe Vampire Diaries), Amanda Lasher (Sweet/ViciousGossip Girl) and YA author turned YA TV producer Rebecca Serle (Famous in Love). 

A few highlights: 

The panelists were asked by moderator Jarett Wieselman (BuzzFeed) about their all-time favorite shows set in high school. Plec listed Friday Night LightsBuffy the Vampire Slayer and My So-Called Life. Lasher also stumped for MSCL, in addition to Freaks and Geeks and 90210, and Serle counted Dawson's CreekRoswellGossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries among her faves. (These are seriously all such good choices. My own include BuffyThe O.C.Veronica MarsDawson's CreekRoswellFreaks and GeeksPretty Little Liars, Gilmore Girls and, naturally, Smallville. My newest fave is obviously Riverdale.) 

When asked why most of these coming-of-age shows are set in high school instead of college, Plec (who tried hard to produce a musical theatre college series with her frequent collaborator Greg Berlanti) said, "It's difficult because college is not a universal experience. High school is a universal experience, but college is an aspirational experience, and you don't want viewers to be like 'fuck these privileged motherfuckers, I gotta work for a living.'" She makes a good point! 

But high school TV obviously comes with its own challenges. Serle said, "There are a lot of logistics that go into being in high school," and Lasher added, "A lot of rules. You have to worry about getting in trouble with your parents, you have to worry about getting kicked out of school. There are all of these rules that are very constricting," and while that's something writers have to work around, it makes for great, easy drama. And the other benefit of high school television comes from Plec's Dawson's Creek  and The Vampire Diaries producer, Kevin Williamson. "Kevin always says, 'In high school, you feel like everything's life or death,' and then when you combine it with actual life or death, it's very fraught."

The main thing most of these women bemoaned is that it's difficult to tell small, real high school stories anymore, like Freaks and Geeks or Dawson's Creek. Plec used a shorthand to talk about what all networks insist on in upcoming YA television. When asked if they care if the location is high school or college, she said, "They care what the zombie is." Later, she expanded. "Everwood is this great family drama" (cosigned!!) "and they would never make it today because you need a zombie."

While some of my favorite YA television shows have a "zombie" (or a vampire, or vigilante, or superhero, or alien), I definitely acknowledge that we're at a disadvantage if shows like Everwood, Dawson's Creek and My So-Called Life aren't being made anymore. What are some of your favorite high school shows?