"Gossip Girl" is just the sort of teenage soap opera that stands an excellent chance of becoming a hit among the younger set — the teens and twentysomethings it's aimed at.

It will also attract preteens who want to be cool like the faux teens in this new CW show, which premieres tonight at 8 on Ch. 30.

But ... parents will want to pay attention to the content of "Gossip Girl" before deciding if their kids should be allowed to watch. Close attention.

Based on the best-selling series of young-adult novels by Cecily von Ziegesar, the show is about a group of privileged teens who go to an uppity prep school on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Tonight's premiere (8 p.m., Ch. 30) includes, among other things, a teenage girl climbing on top of a boy and removing his clothes; drunken teens having sex; teens smoking pot; teens drinking in bars, in a limo and at a party; a teen boy getting amorous with a girl who fights him off; and that same teen boy essentially attempting to rape a freshman girl who is supposed to be, what, 14?

There's dialogue that includes one teen boy telling another to "seal the deal with Blair because you're also entitled to tap that a--."

And yet "Gossip Girl" executive producer Josh Schwartz said, "We feel a great deal of responsibility in terms of the messages that, you know, the show sends."

To hear Schwartz ("The O.C.") talk, "Gossip Girl" is performing a public service of sorts.

"The best way to have a conversation and build trust with this audience is through an honest depiction of this behavior," he said. "And, I think, only through that do consequences for their actions have any real impact or significance."

He took offense when a critic asked him why the parents of these kids didn't exercise any control over their offspring. "Why is it girls gone wild?"

"That's not quite fair," Schwartz said.

Well, it's an exaggeration, perhaps, but not a complete distortion.

Perhaps the dumbest comment came from Kelly Rutherford, who plays the mother of two of the teens on the show. "If the kids make the grades and do what they're supposed to do, then they can play hard as well."

So ... if they do well in school, their parents allow them to smoke, drink, do drugs and have sex? Huh?

Schwartz was correct when he pointed out that there are good kids on this show — not all of them are druggies and rapists. That a lot of them are "flawed characters" who are "trying to do good" despite lousy role models.

"As long as we understand that they're searching to do the right thing and that we see consequences for their actions, the world isn't nearly as depraved as it appears."

However, much of the bad behavior in the first hour of the show looks awfully glamorous. And, while there may be other consequences coming, the attempted rapist's punishment in the pilot is — he gets punched.

Schwartz also suggested that "we're not giving teenagers enough credit."

"I think that they're an incredibly sophisticated audience," he said, adding that he feels they won't be sucked in by the glamour but will see "these characters are flawed enough" that young viewers will "take great solace in the sanity of their own lives."

"And as long as we continue to, like I said, portray this world responsibly but realistically" Schwartz said, "I think it absolutely should have a teenage audience, and I think it could be very valuable for that audience and their parents."

I didn't realize the pilot is educational programming.

Frankly, compared to a lot of the stuff on MTV these days, "Gossip Girl" is rather mild. (Parents, have you seen what your kids are watching on MTV?) And "Gossip Girl" is hardly the first prime-time soap about teens that smoke, drink, do drugs and have sex — that's been true on everything from "Beverly Hills, 90210" to "The O.C."

It's up to parents whether their kids should watch "Gossip Girl." And it's incumbent on parents to pay attention and make a choice.

GORDON RAMSAY has always been just too darn mean for my taste on "Hell's Kitchen" — his yelling, screaming and cursing at contestants in that cooking show seems unnecessary.

Well, he yells, screams and curses (complete with bleeps) just as much on "Kitchen Nightmares" (8 p.m., Ch. 13), but it doesn't seem as bad because he's trying to shape up failing restaurants, some of which are lucky they haven't food-poisoned anyone to death.

"Nightmares" is watchable in a car-wreck kind of way — you almost can't look away. But it may also keep you from ever eating out again.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com