Move Over, Oprah, Here Comes Jane

You should be feeling good. One of your kids is a college freshman, the other just landed her first job. But you're still worried-they aren't watching enough afternoon TV. Well, chill out, Mom and Dad, here comes "Jane," a new talk show for teenagers and young adults who don't relate to more grizzled programs like "Donahue" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The host is Jane Pratt, 29, the lively editor in chief of Sassy, a popular magazine for teenage girls. Last week "Jane" made its debut in the 5-to-6 p.m. time slot on Fox Televisions New York City station. The first day's topic: being jilted. The guest: the guy who dumped Pratt in college.

This is something kids can, you know, seriously relate to. "Our feeling," says coexecutive producer Gail Steinberg, "is that there's a huge audience for the talk genre and it hasn't been specifically served." In its first week, "Jane" served young obsessive love, adolescent Satan worship, teens who carry weapons and "X-rated ways I worked my way through college" to talk-show-starved youth. Like other Fox shows before it, "Jane" is having a trial run in just one city. Early ratings are good and producers hope "Jane" will go national after 13 weeks. They also hope it will attract the advertisers' prime market, the 18- to 34-year-olds who are only a fraction of the audience of other daytime yakathons.

Steinberg, 44, believes that the spectrum will be even wider, from kids in their early teens to parents like her who "want to hear what young people are talking about and thinking about." But Pratt says, "I see the core audience as late teens to early 20s" just slightly older than the Sassy readership of 14- to 19-year-olds. The show is "very much taken from the kids' perspective." Long on anecdote, short on analysis, with more than a hint of attitude "Jane" could be a loose video version of Sassy, which Pratt has edited since its founding in 1988. (Both Sassy and Pratt own a piece of the show.) The magazine's current issue has the mix she wants to bring to "Jane": young rockers' romance; African-American hair braiding; "Trouble in Daddyland (Life with the Dadster can be so tempestuous. Why, oh why?)" and a "Help" column on "vaginal b.o., spotted teeth, sinus nastiness and more."

On the set of "Jane," Pratt is something of an overgrown kid. Wearing little makeup, her couture (combat boots, baggy dresses) hip rather than haute, she races up and down stairs, squats on the stage, makes faces, confesses to a variety of youthful transgressions. As high-school students repeatedly call out her name, she whirls and says, "I'll get to you! I'll get to you!" Once she does, she puts her arms around their shoulders holds their hands. "I think those are some of the reasons they picked me," she says. It certainly wasn't for her TV experience: she has none. "I did this cold, no coaching. I think they didn't want me to turn into a TV-ized person."

Being plugged in to kids, Pratt says, gives her the confidence to do the show. "I'm in sync with them. I want to know what they think and like. I feel more comfortable talking with them than with people who are older. I got stuck at that age." When Pratt started at Sassy, there was a half-serious joke that she would have to retire at 30, "but as time went on and I wasn't maturing, they could see I wouldn't have to."

The "fun" shows--cheap boyfriends, rock stars and their mothers-will keep people watching, says Pratt, but it's serious ones-teen suicide, HIV-that count. And she has a naively noble goal: "I want kids who watch to be open-minded and tolerant. If they can see people who aren't like them and be more accepting, see that underneath they're the same, that's the most important thing."