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TV Note: Future still up in air for 'American High'

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The emotionally honest PBS series "American High" comes to a close tonight with a one-hour graduation episode, airing on WQED/WQEX at 10 p.m. following a repeat of last week's episode at 9:30.

Station manager B.J. Leber said WQED hasn't gotten much response to the series, which carries a parental advisory due to the frank conversations of the teens in this docudrama about students at a suburban Chicago public high school.

Leber said one caller left a message praising the show, but that was about it. Ratings-wise, "American High" isn't the most-watched show on WQED, nor is it the least-watched, falling in the middle of the pack.

"It's drawing in a different audience, teens and parents," Leber said. "It's a small step in the right direction."

PBS executives worry that the audience for its programs continues to age, which is particularly troublesome for stations dependent on viewer contributions. PBS executives see "American High" as an opportunity to draw viewers to PBS who would normally not tune in.

In a phone interview yesterday, "American High" executive producer R.J. Cutler said he's happy with the reaction to the show on PBS. "American High" aired briefly on Fox last August before it was canceled. PBS picked up the series and put it on the air again in April.

"We're really proud of the fact that a show that, quite frankly, was left for dead by Fox not only found a perfect home, but one where it was able to thrive," Cutler said. "Our numbers last week were the highest numbers all year long, so that's a great sign as we build up to the finale, which should have even higher numbers."

Cutler said development on a second season has begun, but PBS has yet to order it. If "American High 2" happens, Cutler said it will be set in a different type of high school, most likely a school in an urban area somewhere along the Eastern seaboard.

"The show asks the question, what is it like to be a teen-ager coming of age in America right now? We know no single high school experience can answer that question, regardless where you're growing up or what socio-economic background you have," Cutler said. "There are things all teen-agers have in common right now, but to really get more of a portrait, to answer that question, we need to move around the country and among different socio-economic environments."

Localizing 'Zoom'

WQED will be among 40 PBS stations to localize the Friday edition of the PBS kids' show "Zoom" beginning in January.

The "Zoom" opening and closing credits on Fridays will be tailored to the Pittsburgh market. Other localized inserts are still being developed, including a possible weekly feature on talented young musicians from southwestern Pennsylvania.

Amber's ruling

Still enjoying her 15 minutes -- specifically, on the pages of Stuff magazine in a very small white bikini -- "Survivor: The Australian Outback's" Amber Brkich has only good things to say about the reality series.

"That's upsetting, that whole lawsuit thing," Brkich told "KTLA Morning News" in Los Angeles, referring to contestant Stacey Stillman's accusation that show creator Mark Burnett tried to influence voting on the original "Survivor."

"I think Mark [Burnett] is smart enough so he doesn't need to be involved in that aspect of the show, because he knows we go through such a long process of getting picked, from 50,000 to 16," Brkich continued. "He knows that those 16 will make a good show on their own."

On Monday's "Late Show With Craig Kilborn," Brkich revealed "Survivor 2" villainess Jerri Manthey will pose for Playboy. (Zap2it.com)

Thursday, June 14, 2001

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