The WB’s ‘Young Americans’ Featured Some of Your Favorite TV Stars
The short-lived WB drama boasted the talents of Ian Somerhalder before Lost and The Vampire Diaries, Katherine Moennig before The L Word and Ray Donovan, Matt Czuchry before The Good Wife and The Resident, Charlie Hunnam before Sons of Anarchy, and Michelle Monaghan before True Detective and The Path, as well as Eureka alum Ed Quinn and Superman Returns star Kate Bosworth.
From the mind of creator Steven Antin — a Goonies star who later directed Burlesque and wrote Proud Mary — Young Americans follows working-class teen Will (Rodney Scott) after he cheats on an entrance exam for the prestigious boarding school Rawley Academy to escape his abusive father.
At Rawley, Will meets his roommate Scout (Mark Famiglietti), who’s dating a townie named Bella (Bosworth), and a teen named Hamilton (Somerhalder), who’s crushing on his crew teammate Jake (Moennig). Czuchry, meanwhile, guest stars as Will’s best friend, while Hunnam plays a British “bad boy” Rawley student and Monaghan plays a love interest for Will.
“I wanted to write a show about young people and [I wanted them] to be at that time of your life when the possibilities are endless,” Antin told the New York Daily News in 2000. “I wanted to write a show about the moments of life when you look back on your youth, and the stakes are not so high. But as a teenager you’re inherently melodramatic.”
Antin also had a flash of inspiration for Bosworth’s character when he drove through New England and came across a gas station with four 15-year-old girls working as pump jockeys. “One of them said, ‘My dad owns the station,’” Antin explained. “I just thought this was the sweetest thing I ever saw.”
The Young Americans pilot was shot in Atlanta in 1999, but it put on hold until 2000, when a deal with Coca-Cola helped ensure its eight-episode pickup as a summer series, albeit one with conspicuous product placement.
The delay gave time for Antin to reshoot the pilot episode, though — allowing him to move production to Baltimore, fix troublesome storylines, and replace the top-40 soundtrack with his favorite music. The reshoot meant, however, that Clueless’ Jeremy Sisto was unavailable to play the professor role that ultimately went to Quinn, who was then a “newcomer” in Hollywood, per Entertainment Weekly.
And as the series premiere neared, Scott guest-starred in the last three episodes of Dawson’s Creek Season 3, the conceit being that his character, Will, was a childhood friend of Dawson, Joey, and Pacey.
Young Americans premiered on July 12, 2000, taking over Dawson’s Creek’s time slot for the summer. “It’s incredibly impactful to be tied into a show like Dawson’s Creek, which will help teenagers discover the show and have something original to watch during the summer,” Antin told Variety before the premiere.
Unfortunately, critics didn’t exactly rave about the show. “Young Americans is okay,” said EW’s Ken Tucker. “Its sexual-confusion subplots alone will make for a summer’s worth of sincere young actors reducing its target audience of skeptical young people to shrieks of appalled amusement.”
“It’s as if [Antin] looked at the blueprints of other WB shows and plucked out the elements that would give his series the best chance for success with the Gen Y set,” wrote Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Mindless and cliched, to be sure, but escapist entertainment nonetheless.”
The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik posted a brighter take on the series, at least. “As teen dramas go, this one about life at a prestigious boarding school has a lot going for it,” he said.
Even more unfortunately, Young Americans didn’t catch on with audiences, either. After the first season’s eight-episode run ended on August 30, 2000, The WB canceled the show, and nothing came of MTV’s rumored interest in a second season.
Still, the show has ardent fans, devotees who have created comprehensive Young Americans fan sites and who reminisce about the show on forums and on Twitter two decades later, even though the show isn’t available on any streaming platform.
And as for the cast, the Young Americans aren’t so young anymore, but so many of them are still lighting up our TV screens, long after “the summer they’ll never forget.”