NEW YORK - Nickelodeon is considering a special for its young audience about sex and love following the news that 16-year-old "Zoey 101" star Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant.
The television network has made no announcement about the future of "Zoey 101," its popular program aimed primarily at youngsters aged 9-14. Filming for the show's fourth and final season has finished, and episodes are scheduled to begin airing in February.
For the special, Nickelodeon said it's talking with veteran newswoman Linda Ellerbee, the veteran newswoman who has stepped in frequently in the past with shows on talking to children about difficult issues in the news. She's done shows about same-sex parents, AIDS, the Columbine shooting and President Clinton's impeachment scandal.
"I think it's important that something be done," Ellerbee told The Associated Press yesterday. "But I think it's important that it be done in a measured way, and not just to feed the beast of news stories.
A Nickelodeon spokesman, Dan Martinsen, confirmed the discussions but said no decision had been made.
Spears, the younger sister of pop star Britney Spears, told the OK! celebrity magazine this week that she was pregnant. The father is her 19-year-old boyfriend, Casey Aldridge. She said she plans to raise the baby in her home state of Louisiana.
Nickelodeon has made no comment beyond a supportive statement for its star: "We respect Jamie Lynn's decision to take responsibility in this sensitive and personal situation. We know this is a very difficult time for her and her family, and our primary concern right now is for Jamie Lynn's well being."
The company has received a mixed response so far from its viewers, and the news has launched a public discussion about how parents should deal with it.
"This is a great opportunity for parents at this moment to talk to their kids about this - more important, to listen to their kids about this," Ellerbee said.
Rather than focus strictly on Spears, Ellerbee said she's considering producing a broad discussion about how people know they're in love, when it's the right time to have sex and what the value systems of their parents and friends are. It could air as soon as next month.
"Right now what Nick is trying to do - and what I am trying to do - is figure out what is the best thing to do for kids," she said.
One television critic, David Hinckley of the New York Daily News, wrote yesterday that to end "this sordid moment" with a lesson, Nickelodeon should pull the plug on "Zoey 101."
"If Nickelodeon keeps Jamie Lynn Spears because her product sells, it runs the risk that a valuable message it has spent years crafting could shift from 'trust us' to 'whatever,' " Hinckley wrote.
Although Nick executives are still discussing the future of "Zoey 101," it's considered unlikely that it would shelve the final season. *