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Will ’10 Things’ Add Up to TV Success?

Just last week I stumbled upon an email invitation from my high school reunion committee. It’s been 10 years since I departed Saugus High, a mostly white-bred school in an innocuous Los Angeles suburb.

I’ve yet to decide if I’ll be making a trip back to California for this little shindig. It’s not that I had a bad experience. In fact, I had a pretty lackluster time. I came, I saw, I went.  Most of my memories are linked to pop culture happenings that coincided with my time at Saugus.

Highlights included sleeping outside a theater to see "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" (George Lucas still owes me a refund), seeing U2’s Popmart Tour, getting addicted to Broadway’s "Rent," following NBC’s "Friends" and being swept away by "Titanic." 

Then, just before graduation, a little movie struck a chord for me. "10 Things I Hate About You" made high school angst and confusion entertaining.

"10 Things" starred a then unknown Heath Ledger, playing the mysterious stranger Patrick Verona. Julia Stiles broke out as a bitchy post-feminist leader. Larisa Oleynik played Stiles’ rebellious sister. And David Krumholtz, Larry Miller and Allison Janney helped give the film a potent youthful ensemble.

Yet it was the role of Cameron Jones, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, that resonated most for me. Here was a kid who floated between social cliques, albeit gravitating more towards the nerdy side of things. He had a crush on the "hot chick,” and befriended the troublesome Verona to get the girl. This character embodied everything I was feeling throughout high school. Simply put, he was relatable. Creating a teenager on screen that I could identify with was no easy task.

Screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith made their feature film debut writing "10 Things." The movie also started director Gil Junger’s career.  Three Hollywood newbies found a way to capture the late ’90s teenage experience in a way that the average kid could completely relate to.

Unlike its 1999 counterpart, "American Pie," "10 Things" was without the raunch and exploitation that is once again standard fare in teen entertainment. Instead, the creative trio focused on honest emotions and realistic experiences.  William Shakespeare is also owed some credit, as the movie is a loose adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew."

Ten years later, writer-producer Carter Convington is hoping to re-create the magic of that popular film. His new television series, "10 Things I Hate About You," will premiere July 7 on ABC Family. And Junger has returned to direct the pilot episode.

The big question is, will success happen twice to this teen tale? The film took in nearly $53 million, earning far more than its $16 million budget. But with primetime now being overrun with high school dramas, like the CW’s "Gossip Girl" and "90210," there’s no telling if kids will flip away from the networks for a cable offering of this kind.

ABC made a wise decision launching the series on its Family channel, as ratings pressure is much less stressful that higher up the dial. Yet, network television could benefit from such quality programming.

The Julia Stiles character, Kat Stratford, is a girl who would make Gloria Steinem proud. Think less Leighton Meester with her sex tape debacle and more a young Eve Ensler on her way to writing "The Vagina Monologues." Kat embodies the empowerment of teenage girls. Something programming executives should at least tempt viewers with now and again. There is room on the playground for both sex-crazed socialites and strong independent women.

James Sims got his start in news while serving as a radio and television reporter in the U.S. Air Force. After a few years in South Korea he returned to Los Angeles where he worked at "Entertainment Tonight" and then the Hollywood Reporter. Now in New York covering Broadway, he continues to observe the entertainment industry with a critical yet watchful eye.