A History of Teen TV Scandals: 25 Years of Parental Outrage


MTV’s Skins may be the “most dangerous show on television” according to the Parents Television Council, but the racy British import isn’t in hot water solely for its characters’ constant drug use or girl-on-girl action, because that would be just too damn predictable. Instead, the show’s latest scandal stems from claims that it may have violated federal child pornography laws. Oops!

The thing is, this isn’t teen TV’s first media circus, by a long shot. After the jump, we’ve rounded up some of the biggest teen TV scandals from the ’80s through present.

Saved by the Bell‘s off-set sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll

So maybe they were light on the rock n’ roll, but Dustin Diamond’s 2009 tell-all memoir Behind the Bell about the ’90s sitcom made its wholesome facade crumble right before our nostalgic eyes. According to Diamond (who played Screech), kissing scenes between stars almost always prompted a rendez-vous between the teen idols in their trailers, Mark-Paul Gosselar (who played Zack) used steroids to bulk up before Saved by the Bell‘s failed college years, and there was pot on set — lots and lots of pot.

Diamond’s former co-stars have denied his claims, but he stands by them. As much as we hate to side with Screech, Jessie Spano’s famous rendition of “I’m So Excited” on caffeine pills really is that much more amusing when taken as a peek into the cast’s private life.

Beverly Hills, 90210‘s Brenda trades in her V card

While today’s rebooted version of 90210 can blame a strongly-implied blowjob in its first episode for a whole new wave of parental disapproval, its predecessor was hit with its fair share of backlash simply for including Brenda’s off-screen virginity loss in a first-season episode. There’s some kissing, some talk, and some gestures towards the bed, but the fairly tame sequence (that you can watch here) is a pretty good reminder that the times they are a-changin’ because today this would probably fly with no qualms. We’re looking at you, Gossip Girl.

Marissa and Girl-Alex’s O.C. romance

On screen, The O.C. brewed their own trouble by pairing Mischa Barton’s Marissa Cooper with another female character, the bisexual ex-girlfriend of Seth Cohen, Alex Kelly. The two had some steamy makeout scenes, which caused the American Family Association to demand that the show be taken off the air for featuring a lesbian kissing scene on prime-time network TV. The O.C. creators yawned. Marissa eventually broke up with Alex, and then the show broke up with Marissa by killing her off, which we all know was really its biggest controversy, anyway.

Jamie Lynn Spears’s Zoey 101 pregnancy

Jamie Lynn Spears threw us a curveball when she gave us our very first tween TV scandal. Spears announced she was pregnant in December of 2007, just before the Season 4 premiere of her Nickelodeon show Zoey 101. Unsurprisingly, there never was a Season 5. Additional controversy ensued over her then-boyfriend and baby daddy Casey Aldridge, who was almost three years older than the 16-year-old star. The two were together and engaged and separated in regular intervals, but as of now they’re apart, and Spears hasn’t re-entered the Hollywood limelight since her daughter Maddie’s birth. Is there a lesson here, Britney? Maybe?

Miley Cyrus’s Vanity Fair shoot (and everything that came after it)

Miley Cyrus found herself in a pickle after she got a little suggestive in a Vanity Fair shoot with legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz in 2008. Although the photos gave the impression that she was topless, her handlers clarified that she was wrapped in a bedsheet. Even so, many were still upset at the sexual nature of the photograph, and Disney, at the helm of Hannah Montana, went on the offensive against the shots, saying that the shoot was meant to “deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines.”

Miley apologized for the outcome of the shoot and also expressed remorse over the situation. Leibovitz stood by the photo, calling it simple and beautiful, but said she was sorry it was misinterpreted by so many. The photo tizzy ended there, but Miley kept us on our toes by complicating her Hannah Montana image a few more times with her racy cell phone pics and fun with a bong, and really is showing no signs of stopping. ‘Atta girl!

90210 girls’ weight criticisms

Sure, high school has its skinny bitches, but 90210 reboot stars Jessica Stroup and Shenae Grimes may have took that part of the job description a little too seriously. The two were put under the microscope for being way, way too scary-skinny and continuing to shrink throughout the show’s first season — a problem not solely for those who complained the girls were a bad example for their own children, but also for the starlets’ own health. Their co-stars announced to the public that they were planning an intervention if the ladies didn’t take better care of themselves and gain weight.

Gossip Girl‘s “3SOME”

Before the overprotective parents of the world shook their fists at Skins, there was Gossip Girl. The show responded to criticism of its up-close portrayal of teen sex by incorporating criticism from news outlets and the Parents Television Council in their posters and commercials in the hopes of attracting more rebellious and curious teen viewers. Their blunt advertising tactic caused the biggest explosion with their advertisement for an episode featuring a threesome (between Dan, Vanessa, and Dan’s then-girlfriend, played by Hilary Duff of Lizzie McGuire fame), which included some intimate shots emblazoned with the text “3SOME.” And, surprise!: The Parents Television Council called for networks not to play the episode. But it aired anyway (you can watch the scene here), and to a modest ratings boost, at that.

Glee‘s sexy GQ spread

Back in November, the three 20-somethings who play the generally wholesome high-school protagonists of Glee assumed some not-so-PG poses for a scantily-clad Terry Richardson GQ shoot. The Parents Television Council swooped in again to say the shots were “bordering on pedophilia” because they sexualized the stars in their characters’ high school setting, even though the celebs themselves are of age. Dianna Agron, who plays Quinn, quickly apologized to her young fans on her blog, and everyone else went back to singing and dancing and throwing jazz hands or whatever it is they do on Glee.

Taylor Momsen’s Gossip Girl hiatus

It seems like ever since Taylor Momsen’s character on Gossip Girl, Jenny Humphrey, took the turn from good girl to pseudo-punk rebel and introduced herself to the raccoon school of black eyeliner application, a few screws have come loose in the actress herself. In 2009, she became the frontwoman for an alt-rock band, The Pretty Reckless, and started saying things like that her best friend is her vibrator because she was tired of men (at age 16, no less). In October, she posed half-naked on the cover of Revolver. Rumors also swirled that the actress couldn’t remember her lines on set. The CW followed with an announcement in November that Momsen would be an indefinite hiatus from Gossip Girl for purely “creative reasons.” Okay, CW. Whatever you say.

Skins gets raw

Whether you like your Skins British or American (we’ll go ahead and answer “British” for you), you’re probably a big fan of the show’s uncanny ability to attract controversy with any given episode. Nudity! Drugs! Sex! Alcohol! Violence! Cursing! Brothels! Lesbian sisters! It’s been the bona fide worst nightmare of conservative critics everywhere.

When the British version first aired on BBC America, the Parents Television Council got up in arms because there was no censorship of content, despite the fact that in Britain Skins airs on a premium channel (the equivalent of HBO or Starz) that’s not an open broadcast any young, impressionable child can watch. The American version is giving it a good run for its money with the “most dangerous show on television” label, a potential child pornography investigation, and a mass exodus of advertisers. But the show may want to worry a little more about competing with the British version in terms of quality — after all, showing a little heart can go a lot farther than showing a little skin.