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Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press
Jamie Lynn Spears at the Kids' Choice Awards in March.

It may be difficult to drum up sympathy for a television network, but it's hard not to feel sorry for Nickelodeon.

The cable/satellite channel, which has for decades provided an incredible amount of family friendly programming, finds itself caught in the scandal surrounding 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy.

If Spears were the star of some series on Showtime — or even something on Fox or CBS — there would be a good deal of tsk-tsking over her situation. She is the younger sister of Britney Spears, so even if Jamie Lynn wasn't on a TV show, her pregnancy at 16 would make headlines.

But she's the star of a TV series on Nickelodeon, which as always gone out of its way to provide role models. It's been a safe haven for parents with young kids.

"Zoey 101" is a sitcom about teens that's intended for teens and pre-teens. Spears stars as Zoey, who attends a boarding school with a bunch of wholesome kids who tell wholesome jokes while getting into wholesome trouble.

The kids and tweens who are "Zoey 101" fans no doubt have heard about the Spears pregnancy. And there will be some questions for parents about how Zoey could have done what she did.

And that should be an excellent opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about how characters on TV and in movies are not the same as the people who play them.

Some are calling for Nickelodeon to pull the show off the air immediately. And to cancel the fourth (and, as previously announced, final) season of "Zoey 101," which is scheduled to begin in February.

But that fourth season wrapped production months ago. Nickelodeon invested millions of dollars in the show — which remains as wholesome as anything on TV — so should the network be forced to lose all that money because of the behavior of its star?

It shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone older than the age of, well, 16 that TV is fantasy, not reality. Some of the family friendliest shows are populated by actors (and writer and producers and directors) whose lives are quite different from what they're putting on television. And, by the same token, some of the nicest people on Earth play mean, rotten, underhanded characters.

Kids should know that fact.

Nickelodeon executives are considering a "Nick News" special of some sort to explore the real-life issues surrounding the teenager who stars in "Zoey 101." Given the exceptional quality of past Linda Ellerbee's previous "Nick News" productions — which have explored everything from AIDS to school shootings to the reasons behind President Bill Clinton's impeachment — that's not a bad idea at all.

Jamie Lynn Spears is an actress who plays a character. Even if parents don't approve of the actress' behavior, teaching kids to distinguish between fantasy and reality at an early age is a valuable lesson.

IRONY GUSHED in the wake of the "Survivor: China" finale — it was almost laughable if it hadn't been so sad.

You may recall that Utahn Todd Herzog was criticized in some quarters because he lied and backstabbed his way to winning the "Survivor" competition for the million-dollar prize. It was silly criticism, given that's the way the game is played — much the way a lot of games are played.

Some who criticized Herzog pointed to Denise Martin as his polar opposite. The lunch lady with the mullet didn't lie and cheat her way (at least not much) to a fourth-place finish. And some saw her as much more worthy of winning.

Then she turned out to be a huge liar. And she wasn't playing a game.

On the reunion show following the "Survivor" finale (which aired live in half the country and on tape-delay here), Martin told a sad, tearful tale about how her employer wouldn't give her back her job as a lunch lady and instead forced her to work nights as a janitor. And (sniff, sniff) she couldn't even be home to eat dinner with her children!

Out of the goodness of his heart, executive producer Mark Burnett gave Martin $50,000 out of his own pocket.

It was a touching moment. And a complete lie.

Turns out that Martin had applied for, and been promoted to, janitor, increasing her salary from $7 an hour to $17 and receiving greatly increased benefits. Not only that, but she was promoted in March, months before "Survivor: China" began production.

Her employers were inundated with nasty e-mails when they had done absolutely nothing wrong. Martin apologized but continued to lie. "It was not my intention to be misleading," she said on CBS's "Early Show."

Huh? She blatantly lied on national television and didn't mean to mislead anyone?

Martin eventually asked Burnett to donate the $50,000 to charity.

Herzog played a game. He played it very well. He won.

Martin just played on our emotions. It's impossible to believe she anticipated Burnett's largesse, but she certainly lied to draw favorable attention to herself.

She's the one who deserves our scorn.


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