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Teens Sign On As Tv Show Signs Off

South Bend News
January 12, 1995

Teens Sign on as Tv Show Signs Off

by lisa bornstein

across the country, computer connected teens and adults have fallen for the same 15-year-old girl, angela chase.

now that she's ailing, theyre teaming up to save her before a television network pulls the plug.

angela chase, the focal point of the abc drama mscl, was well known before viewers even saw her face. the much-hailed show was written up in the new york times, rolling stone, and newsweek monts before the pilot ever aired, partly due to the reputation of its producers, 30something's marshall herzkovitz and ed zwick

after mscl premiered in august, the show was lauded by virtually every tv writer in the country.

the only hearts the show didnt capture were those of the countrys television audience. it spent the fall holding down the neilsen ratings, usually in the bottom 5 shows. abc announced plans to put the show on hiatus-often a euphemism for cancellation-after airing its last episode jan 26.

it seemed as if the people who said they loved the show werent actually tuning in. but elizabeth miller and her friends were.

miller , a freshman at st josephs high school in south bend, was anticipating the show and immediately developed a committed relationship with it. she spends several hours a week at her computer discussing the latest episode with viewers across the country.

she, her classmate heather stamp, and adams freshman lauren gitlin have taped every one of the 15 episodes that have aired. the shows small but rabid audience spans the age groups, but for these three teens, the painfully honest hourlong drama gives them anothers peek at their own life.

"they dont live in beverly hills and they look real" stamp says "theyre all pretty or whatever, but theyre not like model perfect. they all have their own flaws"

each has her own favorite. for gitlin, its angela (played by claire danes), the angst ridden, mopey sophomore who can face neither her parents nor high school. miller is devoted to rickie vazquez (wilson cruz), a bisexual boy who is frequently beaten up and the others most loyal freind. for stamp, a quiet, neatly dressed girl, the focus is rayanne graff (a.j. langer)-a wild girl who cultivates a bad reputation and overdoses on one occasion.

"rayanne, shes like everything you would be if you could be" stamp says wistfully.

"without the stomach pumping and all that" miller adds, without a touch of irony

for miller, the battles between mother (bess armstrong) and daughter have actually pulled the family closer.

"its like the only show we watch as a family" she says. "my mom really likes it. my dad pretends he doesnt watch tv. we dont watch it together, but we are all watching it at the same time in different rooms."

miller and angela chase, in fact, have both dyed their hair coppery red, but miller beat angela to the punch, dying it a full year before she saw the show.

when miller learned that mscl was terminal, she sprang into action, joining hundreds of friends shed never met. every week for four months, they had used the computer service america online to discuss every sidelong glance between angela and jordan catalano (jared leto), every cranky moment of angelas mother, every wild stunt of rayanne.

while blockbuster shows like seinfeld had computer folders totalling a few hundred messages over the course of a year, during the short life of mscl, the show has filled 5 folders with 500 messages apeice.

and thats just in the abc section. other messages about mscl can be found in aols gay and lesbian, critics corner, teen scene, and tv gossip folders--as well as the folder of lifetime, the cable network fans hope will snatch the show from the jaws of death.

none of this means that mscl has more fans than seinfeld; theyre just more computer literate--or maybe theyre just more obsessed.

2 20something aol subscribers have started their own lobbying group, called ols, which exists solely to save the show and is collecting dues to buy an ad in variety. another net worker has published the mscl Bible over the internet [thats virany--she looked at it, i hope you dont mind.], filled with episode synopses, cast bios, and favorite quotes.

miller is involved w/ols. her cohorts know how old she is, but online, being 14 isnt as big a liability as it can be in real life.

"most of them know my name because i just sort of tell them" she says of the other subscribers. "most of them are in their 20s or 30s, and i know i wouldnt be talking to them if it wasnt over the net or whatever. its less of an age thing."

in pursuit of her goal, miller has logged plenty of time on aol, often racking up more than 20 hours a month. the freindships shes developed with other viewers eventually go beyond the show, she says.

"i love mscl and everything, but you can only talk about it with one person for so long" she says.

the primary goal for miller and her friends is to keep the show on the air. for them, its a show about real life, without neat endings or overbearing morals.

"its not like bh 90210, where they slap you in the face with the messages," gitlin says. "its not like the writers sit down and say this episode were going to deal with drunk driving, or date rape"

whats most realistic about mscl?

"she has the same outfits" gitlin says. "she wears them over again."

“And, you know, with your hair like that? It hurts to look at you.”

Rayanne Graff, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"