ABC Family Stars On The Success Of Their Shows, Social Media & Fans, And How Teen Dramas Have Grown Up
- December 6th, 2011
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We at Ypulse have always admired ABC Family for breaking boundaries with its programming and using technology in innovative ways to develop creative, yet authentic connections with viewers. And apparently we aren’t the only ones who feel this way; between the network’s addictive shows, focus on fans’ opinions, and commitment to highlighting issues that are important to its audience, it’s no surprise that ABC Family is the top network among Millennials. In fact, according to recent Ypulse research, nearly 40% of students watch the network regularly, including 63% of high school females and 47% of college females!
Clearly ABC Family understands Millennials, so when we were invited to the network’s Winter Wonderland event on Sunday, we jumped at the chance to interview the cast of the hit shows “Pretty Little Liars,” “The Lying Game,” “Switched at Birth,” and the highly-anticipated “Jane By Design.” The stars each spilled on why their show resonates with viewers, how they personally use social media to interact with fans, and why ABC Family programming isn’t just popular with teens, but also with twenty and thirty-somethings.
Relatable Characters Create Identification
At the surface, these four shows are about mysteries, secrets, drama, and fashion, but they appeal to Millennials for more profound reasons as the stars explained; they present exaggerated examples of relatable characters, creating fantasy and escapism that audiences can still identify with. Erica Dasher of the upcoming show “Jane By Design,” revealed that her character, a teenager who mistakenly lands a job at a fashion house and has to balance high school and her career, isn’t the popular girl in school — she’s normal and vulnerable, but finds herself through her hobbies. And although there have been countless programs that explore aspects of the fashion industry, Erica explained that this show offers a new perspective and isn’t just about clothes; “Fashion is the backdrop for the story, but the show is about the characters and their relationships; it’s a coming of age story at the core.”
Then there’s the touching show “Switched at Birth” about two teens who realize they were accidentally — you guessed it — switched at birth at the hospital and had largely different upbringings. Besides the show’s focus on different home lives, cultures, and the age old nature-versus-nurture debate, its most compelling element is its realistic portrayal of the deaf community. Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc) is hard of hearing, as are several characters on the show, and through this program, ABC Family celebrates differences, exposes viewers to American Sign Language, and discusses the bond of family. The show is authentic and full of heart as Constance Marie explains, “Not everybody has experienced the drama of being switched at birth, but everyone comes from a family they think doesn’t understand them. It’s about how much you can love your family yet sometimes hate them at the same time. The relationships on the show are complex, but they’re real and underneath all of it is love.” Lea Thompson continues that many kids can connect with the show although its exact premise may be uncommon. “The show appeals to a wide audience because it celebrates differences. There’s so many mixed families today whether it’s from adopting kids or families joining together. And while not many kids are switched at birth, there are egg donors and sperm donors and different ways to form a family.” Millennials can appreciate the story and relate to the show’s message of “figuring out what makes you who you are,” as Vanessa Marano explains.
But what stands out to us most about “Switched at Birth” — and what seems to impact Millennial viewers — is the authentic depiction of characters with hearing loss. Viewers are interested in this topic as Lea Thompson explains; “Audiences have really embraced it and enjoy learning about it. Younger kids rewind the show to learn the [American Sign Language] phrases that they’re seeing. It really resonates with them.” Katie Leclerc continues that the show has been just as popular among the deaf community: “They have been so ecstatic to have a show that embraces everything they’re about — the culture, the language, the difficulties, and the successes that every deaf person goes through.” “Switched at Birth,” like all of ABC Family’s current programming, provides Millennials with entertainment and, yes, some far fetched scenarios, but viewers still connect with the content and find it meaningful because the relationships mirror those they’re experiencing in their own lives.
Social Media, Stars & Millennials
When it comes to technology, ABC Family talent agrees that social media bridges the gap between stars and viewers, creating a conversation and connection between the two that never existed before. As “The Lying Game’s” Blair Redford put it, “If fans want to share something with you, they can do it in real time. It’s not like the days when they would mail you a letter and not know if you’ll actually get it.” Instead, as is increasingly the case, social media enables fans to show their support, and actors in turn can let fans into more than what they see each week onscreen. In this way, audiences can become more active and consequently, become bigger fans while actors can learn how they’re impacting their audience. Shay Mitchell of “Pretty Little Liars” adds, “It’s amazing to see fans’ responses right after they’ve watched the show and understand if they liked it, and what parts they liked.” And the responses have been in no short supply. “Pretty Little Liars” ranked as one of the top Twitter topics of 2011, as fans interact with each other, the network, and the stars.
Almost all the stars at the event spoke highly of social media — from Twitter and Facebook to Ustream and YouTube — and acknowledged the benefits it provides in letting them connect with Millennial viewers who are eager to have virtual interactions.
And while many of the actors agreed that embracing social media is almost essential for young stars today, it’s clear that they go to great lengths to interact with fans because they want to hear what viewers have to say. Take Shay and her “Pretty Little Liars” co-star Ashley Benson for example; they laughed about their addiction to social media and tendency to create videos and conduct Ustreams almost every chance they get, even during short breaks from filming. They find it exciting to have such a strong connection with fans and they know this interaction is something Millennials value.
Not Just For Teens
It’s no secret that teens enjoy teen drama, after all, it’s a genre all about them! According to recent Ypulse research, 74% of high school girls watch teen drama programs, but as we discussed with the network’s stars, high schoolers aren’t the only ones who appreciate such shows. Nearly 50% of college girls watch teen shows, but even older Millennials in their late 20s and people (mostly females) in their 30s are embracing ABC Family’s programming since it’s not teen-specific. The storylines are complex, weaving parents and kids into each show to a larger extent than many teen programs have in the past. Alexandra Chando of “The Lying Game” explained that the adult characters on her show “are really important, just as much as the kids.” Moreover, while the shows are centered on identity formation, Millennials of all ages, as well as Gen Xers, can appreciate and relate to the characters and what they’re going through. Lucy Hale of “Pretty Little Liars” attributes the show’s vast appeal to its sophisticated storylines, such as student-teacher relationships and dealing with a stalker, which not many shows address. Perhaps as Millennials are maturing faster, so, too, are “teen” dramas, which makes them relevant for a wider audience.
Moreover, “Pretty Little Liars’” Troian Bellisario highlights how the show has a timeless quality, which makes it appealing to viewers of various ages since it’s embedded in a formula that works. “The show is filled with Hitchcock references, so it harkens back to a very tried and true mystery, and everyone loves a good mystery. It’s escapism; it’s not just looking at the girls in pretty clothes.”
The clothes and stars are indeed beautiful, but with ABC Family shows, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.