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My So-Called Life

Gannett News Service
August 4, 1994

My So-Called Life

For more than a year, Ted Harbert faced this dilemma.

There was a pilot for an ABC drama show, "My So-Called Life." It was thoughtful, involving, beautifully crafted.

Naturally, there was no place to put it.

"I love this show," says Harbert, the network's programming chief. "It is one of my personal favorite shows that we've had on the network in a long time."

But that doesn't give it a place on the schedule. Month after month, "Life" teetered.

"We all just went home," says co-star Devon Gummersall. "We couldn't do much except wait."

Now the wait is over, with a surprise twist: Once planned for September of 1993, "Life" will be the first arrival of the 1994- '95 season.

At 8 p.m. Eastern Thursday (Aug. 25), "My So-Called Life" premieres. That's one day ahead of the season's second new show (Fox's "M.A.N.T.I.S.") and three weeks ahead of most.

Here is a series by the "thirtysomething" people, this time focusing on a 15-year-old girl.

Yes, "Life" sometimes has the "thirtysomething" tone of despair. "There's light, there's dark," says producer Marshall Herskovitz. "And when it's dark, ... we're not afraid of it."

Such darkness fits the subject. "I'm in the midst of adolescence," says star Claire Danes, 15. "It's not a fun time."

Well, ... sometimes it is. The "My So-Called Life" opener includes bursts of humor, fun and more.

Is this a fair sample of what's ahead? Yes and no.
- Yes, it's typical of the series. If anything, the next couple "Life" episodes get even better.
- No, it's not typical of the 1994-'95 season. After the brilliant "Life" opener and a couple more episodes, viewers will face a remarkably bland season. It's like having a shipboard romance and a Hawaiian honeymoon, then settling down in the tundra.

Still, "My So-Called Life" will give viewers one reason to dust off their TV sets for the fall.

After finishing "thirtysomething," Herskovitz and Ed Zwick began talking to writer Winnie Holzman. She wanted to turn to adolescence, a time when possibilities are profound and life-changes are immense.

So Holzman began creating some young characters. "I got into the teen-agers so strongly that I almost couldn't write the parents, " she says. "And I am a parent."

Slowly, she beefed them up. Patty and Graham Chase (Bess Armstrong and Tom Irwin) are good providers and concerned but ineffectual parents.

Still, the real problem was casting their daughter, Angela. " We watch shows about teen-agers and they're always about 35 years old," says director Scott Winant.

Then Danes - all of 13 at the time - auditioned.

Danes is a dancer and gymnast who looks like a ballerina. She' s been studying method-acting since she was 9. No, she doesn't come from a "Leave It to Beaver" family. Her mom's an artist, her dad's a computer consultant, her home is bigger on art than on discipline. "We have rules in our house, too," Danes says. "I think every family has rules. But every teen-ager needs to break them."

Still, she also grasps the dilemmas of ordinary adolesence. "You're very aware of other people and you're very aware of yourself," Danes says. "You start to question and you start to doubt and you ... test what kind of person you will become ... "It's a great power, to think that you can change, you know?"

Boosting those changes are Angela's high school friends. Rickie Vasquez is bisexual; he's also half-black, half-Hispanic, an adventurer who's sometimes scared. "He's deciding where he fits in," says Wilson Cruz, who plays him with rich humanity. And there's Brian Krakow (Gummersall), the thoughtful neighbor kid. He loves Angela; she loves guys who are more dangerous and distant. None of these are fully defined yet, but Gummersall says that's fine. "We don't know who they are, but they don't know either." Then there's Rayanne, awhirl in wild clothes and words. "(She's) this dangerous, fun person," Danes says. "To think that you could be like that is new and exciting." A.J. Langer - who looks more like vice president of the Pep Club - was rejected for the role. "They knew that Rayanne was very different from me," she says. She returned with a new look and attitude. Now she's become Rayanne, a character Langer speaks of fondly. "She is a funny person, always on the edge." So the pilot was filmed, beautifully. Harbert dawdled, ordered more episodes, dawdled again.

Now - almost 18 months after if was made - "My So-Called Life" arrives. The good stuff usually has to wait a while.

Copyright 1994, Gannett News Service, a division of Gannett Satelitte Information Network, Inc.

“School is a battlefield for your heart.”

Angela Chase, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"