Fame (1980s)

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Fame (1980s) TV Poster Image
Classic teen series is dated, but it once broke new ground.

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age 11+
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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series is purposefully positive and regularly includes specific take-away lessons for teen viewers on topics like drinking, sex, etc. Additional themes include perseverance and teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters are diverse, work hard, and generally overcome obstacles and adversity by making the "right" decisions. Although they're probaby less relatable now than they were in the '80s, their problems were meant to echo those of real-life teens.

Violence

Rare verbal sparring between major characters, including students and teachers. Secondary characters who make one-time appearances occasionally lead violent lives.

Sex

It's rare for a storyline to involve sex, but it happens from time to time. In one episode, for example, a student meets a teen prostitute while preparing for a drama project and befriends her.

Language

Some mild insults like "jerk," "dumb," and "stupid." Rare uses of gateway phrases like "damn it."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

On rare occasions, a secondary character has a drinking or drug problem. In one episode, for example, a student's brother shows up drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fame is a classic TV drama about artistic teens growing up in New York City in the 1980s. It's generally clean when it comes to language and sexual content -- and it's much tamer than the R-rated 1980 movie it was based on. Storylines occasionally include secondary characters who have serious problems with drugs, alcohol, or violent crime or involve heavy themes like prostitution and debilitating disease. But the primary role models -- and messages -- are overwhelmingly positive.

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What's the story?

Blending elements of straight drama, music, and dance, FAME follows a group of gifted students -- including singer Coco (Erica Gimpel), dancer Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray), and composer Bruno (Lee Currieri) -- during their time at New York's prestigious High School of Performing Arts, where they're learning the skills they need to succeed. Based on the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, the series allowed several of the film's young stars to reprise their roles (re-casting some others and even altering a few controversial characters) and gave Debbie Allen a much more prominent role as a no-nonsense dance teacher. In later seasons, Janet JacksonNia Peeples, and Michael Cerveris (a future Tony winner) joined the cast.

Is it any good?

This TV series is a far cry from Fame the movie, which offered a gritty, honest portrayal of what it was like for teens growing up in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Whereas the film captured the raw emotions of teens who were grappling with heavy issues -- including homosexuality and teen pregnancy -- the small-screen version is much tamer, focusing on the positive aspects of the characters' lives and reserving serious topics for occasional "issue" episodes. It also fails to replicate the film's vibrancy when it comes to the musical performances, which are typically lip-synched or played over a montage. But Fame was undeniably entertaining -- and popular -- for its time, earning eight Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes.

For today's kids, Fame will seem seriously dated -- from the legwarmers the students wear to class to the mimeograph used in the central office to make copies. But that isn't to say they won't like it. The best thing about it, by far, is the fact that parents don't have to worry about iffy content and can actually feel good about their teens -- and even some older tweens -- watching. And that kind of makes it feel kind of modern.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether the characters' stories on Fame are still relevant to today's high schoolers. Teens: Which of these characters, if any, do you relate to? Do any of the characters' problems seem outdated to you? Does the plot play to any stereotypes?

  • How does this series compare to the 1980 film version? How about the 2009 remake? Do you think Fame could make it as a TV series today?

  • What message does the show send about fame? Is it easy to get? How much work does it take? Is fame any easier to come by in modern-day society -- and does that mean you don't have to work as hard to get it?

  • How do the characters in Fame demonstrate perseverance and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

TV details

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