Tuesday, March 13, 2007

James Turns 16 - February 9, 1978

James at 15 is one of the most well-remembered teen dramas ever on television, yet it ran a only a single season. The critics found the show sensitive and real, but the ratings were only mediocre. Perhaps in 1978, parents still had some control over what their children watched, and the show's controversial themes kept this out of most American living rooms. Even so, baby-faced star Lance Kerwin became one of the year's biggest teen cover boys.

Trouble loomed as the network received word of the subject matter for the February 9 episode. James Hunter would lose his virginity, but first NBC insisted that James, at age 15 was too young for sex. Beginning with this episode, the title was changed to James at 16. The irony did not stop there, however, as network interference implemented a string of mind-boggling decisions. James, it was decided, must lose his virginity to an unknown character, a Swedish foreign exchange student, in a casual affair. This would prevent an ongoing sexual relationship. Even more astonishing, the network refused to allow James to use protection, thus, the only way this episode would go into production was if James was aged to 16, had a random affair and not use protection against pregnancy or STD's. Go figure???!!!

The episode begins with James receiving his birthday present from his uncle. Anticipating a car, James is startled when his uncle unveils a hooker, and shuns the call girl, saying "I'm sorry, I thought you were a car."

James does meet a Swedish exchange student, and before the episode is up, James is in love and in bed with her. As Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" plays over the soundtrack, James, at 16, becomes a man.

Head writer Dan Wakefield, left the show after this episode over NBC's ironic and puritanical meddling (16 year olds could have sex, but only without condoms).

There were a great deal of protests from the religious community and preemptions of the February 9th episode, which, of course, pushed this episode into the stratosphere of popular culture. It influenced countless future television productions, such as "My So Called Life" and "Dawson's Creek."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Date: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 07:39 am
Subject: JAMES AT 15/JAMES AT 16
NBC's paradoxical refusal to allow condoms to be mentioned in the JAMES AT 15/JAMES AT 16 "virginity-losing" episode and insistance on making the affair casual (not to mention as much like a pornographic fantasy as possible -- Swedish exchange student indeed!), thus in effect promoting irresponsible sexual behavior in the name of puritanical censorship, seems even more insidious when one reflects that this happened on the eve of the AIDS crisis. The chain of sexual transmissions leading to the first diagnosed cases of AIDS (only three years in the future) was
probably already in progress when the episode aired. Of course,
Wakefield probably intended to refer to condoms only as a method ofbirth control, not as a means of preventing STDs -- but even so, had he been allowed to write the episode as he wanted, at least a few lives (if not more) might have been saved as a result. I wonder how the show (on which teen sex was almost always the central topic) would have changedin light of the AIDS epidemic had it stayed on the air.