Slate: How did you come up with the idea for 16 and Pregnant and how did you decide to structure the way we see it as viewers?
Lauren Dolgen: I was reading an article about teen pregnancy, and it had a statistic that said 750,000 girls between 15 and 19 get pregnant every year. I felt like I got punched in the gut, because it was just staggering. I thought it was a story to tell and a world we needed to explore. Coming up with the formula was a long process. We worked very closely with [executive producer] Morgan J. Freeman. We wanted to develop the right way in, the right storytelling, the right devices, to make it really speak to our audience. A key component is that it doesn’t have our opinions in it; it’s completely from the point of view of the girls who are going through it.
Slate: What do you say to the people who criticize the show and say that it glamorizes teen pregnancy?
Dolgen: People who say that it glamorizes teen pregnancy have not actually watched the show, because these are the very real stories of these girls’ lives, and it shows the good, the bad, and the ugly. Their lives are not glamorous—they have to sacrifice a lot when they’re faced with an unplanned pregnancy. They change from teenagers to adults in an instant.
Slate: A recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that watching programs like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom affects the way Millennials think about abortion rights. Does it surprise you that your shows have such a significant impact?
Dolgen: Our intention was always to make a show that would give the recognition to the audience that there are serious consequences to not being responsible for your sexual health—something that’s been really important to MTV for over a decade. We have a sexual health campaign called It’s Your Sex Life that really addresses issues and has been important to us all along. I think we were all surprised that the show took off in the way it did and got that kind of ratings and awareness. But that’s great, because it just means that more and more teenagers are getting that message.