Lauren Dolgen, creator of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, makes advocacy TV that works.

The most innovative and practical thinkers of our time.
July 26 2011 6:50 AM

Lauren Dolgen, Creator of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom

She makes entertaining advocacy television that actually works.

Lauren Dolgen. Click image to expand.
Lauren Dolgen

Advocacy television for teenagers used to mean dowdy after-school specials and didactic video tapes. It was fodder for parody rather than an engine of real social change. That's until MTV development executive Lauren Dolgen came up with the idea for 16 and Pregnant. The riveting reality show, which was an immediate hit when it premiered in 2009, follows a different expectant teenager during each week's hourlong episode. The show 16 and Pregnant and its spin-off Teen Mom, which documents the lives of girls after they've given birth, don't shy from depicting the often grim day-to-day lives of young, sometimes single moms: They struggle to stay in school and pay their bills, they deal with abusive family members and boyfriends. At the same time, these programs treat their struggling subjects with dignity and respect by letting them tell their own unvarnished stories: Each episode is narrated by its heroine. The shows aren't merely great television; there is evidence that young women who watch narrative drama about teen pregnancy are more likely to use contraception, and research shows that viewing these MTV shows is positively correlated with support for abortion rights.

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

Slate's list of the 25 Americans who combine inventive genius and practicality—our best real-world problem solvers. Read more about how we chose them.

It's no surprise that Dolgen managed to come up with a complicated, often difficult show that still manages to hit a nerve with MTV's audience. She's spent her entire 13-year career at the network, which started with a college internship. She's not just the brains behind 16 and Pregnant—she's also worked on a diverse set of shows ranging from the daredevil slapstick of Jackass to the competitive energy of America's Best Dance Crew. As Dolgen puts it, "Although the audience is very specific—young adults and teenagers—the playground is quite large."

Advertisement

While 16 and Pregnant just wrapped its third season, Teen Mom's third season has just premiered—to record ratings. The shows promise to be staples of the reality genre for a good long while, and Dolgen's impact on advocacy television will continue to be felt—another  Teen Mom spin-off has already premiered to an even larger audience. *  

Check out the rest of our culture Top Right:

Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy

Tina Fey, comic genius

Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey of Archeophone Records

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of The Book of Mormon

.

Correction, July 26, 2011: The original version of this article did not make clear that Teen Mom 2 has already aired. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 20 2014 1:50 PM Why We Shouldn’t be Too Sure About the Supposed Deal to Return the Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 2:16 PM Even When They Go to College, The Poor Sometimes Stay Poor
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 2:19 PM A Procedural Rule Could Keep Gay Marriage From Ever Reaching SCOTUS Again
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 2:39 PM Gwen Stefani Does Her Best Rihanna Impression on New Song
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 1:51 PM Will Amazon Lead Us to the Golden Age of Books? A Future Tense Event.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 10:23 AM Where I Was Wrong About the Royals I underestimated the value of building a team that’s just barely better than mediocre.