James at 15

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James at 15
James at 15 Lance Kerwin Melissa Sue Anderson 1977.jpg
Lance Kerwin and Melissa Sue Anderson
in the pilot movie, James at 15
Also known asJames at 16
Created byDan Wakefield
Written by
  • Wally Dalton
  • Bill Nuss
  • Dan Wakefield
  • Shelley Zellman
Directed by
Theme music composerJohn Ford Coley
Opening theme"James" performed by Lee Montgomery
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes1 movie / 20 episodes
Executive producers
  • Ernest A. Losso
  • Ronald Rubin
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time45–48 minutes
Production company20th Century Fox Television
Original networkNBC
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseTV movie / Pilot
September 5, 1977 (1977-09-05)
October 27, 1977 (1977-10-27) –
June 29, 1978 (1978-06-29)

James at 15 (later James at 16) is an American drama series that aired on NBC during the 1977–1978 season.

The series was preceded by the 1977 made-for-TV movie James at 15, which aired on Monday September 5, 1977, and was intended as a pilot for the series. Both were written by Dan Wakefield, a journalist and fiction writer whose novel Going All the Way, a tale of coming of age in the 1950s, had led to his being contacted by David Sontag of Twentieth Century Fox.

Sontag, the senior vice-president of creative affairs at Fox, had had a lunch meeting in New York City with Paul Klein, the head of programming at NBC. Klein said he needed a series for Sunday night. On the spot, Sontag created the idea for a coming-of-age series seen through the eyes of a teenage boy, including his dreams, fantasies, and hopes. Klein loved the idea and asked Sontag who would write it, with Sontag consequently suggesting Dan Wakefield.[1] Despite an unsourced account of the creation of the series, the on-screen credit reads "Created by Dan Wakefield."


Protagonist James Hunter (Lance Kerwin) was the son of a college professor (Linden Chiles) who moved his family across the country to take a teaching job, transplanting James from Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts.[2] James, who had Walter Mitty-like dreams and dabbled in photography, had a hard time fitting into his new surroundings. During the series run, when James turned 16, the title was updated accordingly.

Wakefield, who was born and raised in Indianapolis but eventually moved to Boston, said he chose Boston both because he wanted to write about a city he knew well and also because he was tired of television's tendency to give programs Los Angeles or New York City settings.[2] To update his own memories of growing up, the writer spoke with adolescents from Boston.


  • Lance Kerwin as James Hunter
  • Linden Chiles as Paul Hunter, James' father
  • Lynn Carlin as Joan Hunter, James' mother
  • Kim Richards as Sandy Hunter, James' sister
  • Deirdre Berthrong as Kathy Hunter, James' sister
  • David Raynr as Ludwig "Sly" Hazeltine, James' friend (billed as David Hubbard)
  • Susan Myers as Marlene Mahoney, James' friend
  • Kevin Van Wieringen as a deaf student in James' class[3]

TV movie[edit]

The movie premiered to high ratings, topping the ratings for the week of September 5–11, 1977,[4][5] with a 42% share of the viewing audience,[6] quickly prompting NBC to approve a series.[4] Associated Press writer Jerry Buck said of the pilot movie that it "captures the essence of growing up in America," adding, "It makes up for all the drivel we've had to put up with, such as Sons and Daughters and Hollywood High."[2]

Critical reception and controversy[edit]

The show was highly praised for its realism and sensitivity, with a New York Times reviewer applauding the program's avoidance of stereotyping characters: "Sly, a jiving black student ... has solidly middle-class parents deeply involved in classical music" and a lower-middle-class classmate discovers that her father makes more money as a plumber than James' professor father.[4] Tom Shales of The Washington Post opined:

Not perfect, not revolutionary, not always deliriously urgent, James at 15 is still the most respectable new entertainment series of the season. Consistently, it communicates something about the state of being young, rather than just communicating that it wishes to lure young viewers. And if it romanticizes adolescence through the weekly trials and triumphs of its teen-age hero, at least it does so in more ambitious, inquisitive and authentic ways than the average TV teeny-bop.[7]

Critics also approved of its handling of James' first sexual experience, with a Swedish exchange student (Kirsten Baker) in the episode which aired February 9, 1978— at which point the show assumed the name James at 16. However, head writer Wakefield quit in a dispute with NBC over the use of the euphemism responsible for 'birth control' in the episode, as well as the network's insistence that James should feel remorse over his decision.[8]

Behind the scenes, the show's original executive producers, Martin Manulis and Joe Hardy, were replaced by Ron Rubin in December 1977. Despite the critical acclaim, the show lasted only one season. Kerwin was actually 16 when the series began, and had turned 17 when it was cancelled.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Result Category Recipient
1978 Primetime Emmy Award Nominated Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series Irene Tedrow
(For episode "Ducks")
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series Kate Jackson
(For episode "Pilot")
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series' - Night Joseph Hardy
(For episode "Friends")


Two novels were written by author April Smith, James at 15 and Friends.[9]


Kevin Williamson, the creator of Dawson's Creek, cited this show as a major influence on him and named it as an inspiration for his show.[10] Williamson said, "Dawson's Creek came out of my desire to do James at 15 for the '90s. It was very provocative and way ahead of its time."[11][12]

The Beastie Boys refer to the show in their song "Hey Ladies" ("I'm not James at 15 or Chachi in charge..."), from the album Paul's Boutique.[13]


  1. ^ "Wakefield, Dan 1932-". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved May 6, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Buck, Jerry. Associated Press. "'James at 15' relives youth," The Dallas Morning News, September 2, 1974, page 4.
  3. ^ Gannon, Jack. 1981. Deaf Heritage–A Narrative History of Deaf America, Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf, p. 389 (PDF Archived 2012-04-24 at the Wayback Machine)
  4. ^ a b c O'Connor, John. New York Times News Service. "New shows put kids in spotlight," The Dallas Morning News, October 25, 1977, page 7.
  5. ^ Pederson, Rena. "'Washington' no 'Roots'" (TV column), The Dallas Morning News, September 14, 1977, page 15: "... NBC landed James at 15 and Laugh-In in first and second place."
  6. ^ Pederson, Rena. "8 to air game — on tape" (TV column), The Dallas Morning News, October 5, 1977, page 14: "And James at 15, which scored a whopping 42 share of the audience with its pilot earlier in September, will move into the Man from Atlantis spot on Oct. 27."
  7. ^ Shales, Tom (December 15, 1997). "Facing the Death of an Old Pal". The Washington Post. pp. B1. Retrieved May 6, 2022.
  8. ^ Brown, Les (January 12, 1978). "Wakefield Quits 'James'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  9. ^ Smith, April (1980). Friends. Random House Children's Books. ISBN 0-440-92666-1
  10. ^ Mangels, Andy (2000). From Scream to Dawson's Creek to Wasteland: The Phenomenal Career of Kevin Williamson. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1580631228.
  11. ^ Littlefield, Kinney (January 18, 1998). "Drama's creator is addiction to adolescence: 'Scream' screenwriter Kevin Williamson translates teen angst to the tube with 'Dawson's Creek'". The Orange County Register. pp. F9.
  12. ^ "James at 15 vs. Dawson's Creek". EW.com. January 30, 1998. Retrieved 2022-05-06.
  13. ^ "Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies Lyrics". Genius. Archived from the original on February 4, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2022.

External links[edit]