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Life Not Dead -- Yet

Knight-Ridder Newspapers
January 15, 1995

Life Not Dead - Yet

Decision in May on fate of show

by Gail Shister

PASADENA, Ca -- Is My So-Called Life dead or alive? Talk to us, Ted Harbert Reports of the acclaimed new drama's cancellation "are premature and untrue," the ABC Entertainment boss told TV critics last week. "It's one of my favorite shows. We'll continue to promote the hell out of it, trying to get an audience.

That's the good news.

The bad news, Harbert says, is that Life, which ends its 19-episode run Jan. 26, has shown almost no growth at 8 p.m. Thursdays and continues to be a Nielsen nightmare for the top-rated network.

ABC will decide in May whether to renew Life for the fall.

While passionately embraced by many young viewers, Life has yet to seduce their parents. Therein lies the rub, Harbert said.

"I expected the show would take off with teens, and one by one, they would get their parents to watch," Harbert said. "We're going hamlet by hamlet, but it's going pretty slowly. The while thing comes down to: How long does it take? When will it take off?"

Life, starring newcomer Claire Danes as angst-ridden Angela Chase and co-executive-produced by Marshall Herskovitz, has become a "cause celebre" among home-computer jocks, Harbert said.

After every episode, Harbert plugs into America Online -- not under his real name -- to check fans' pulses. Their passion for the show, he said, "is just amazing."

But passion alone won't save Life's life, and Harbert knows it. The show attracts a relatively small 21 per cent share of teen viewers, according to Harbert. At this point in the season, Harbert has "the right to expect" a 30 to 40 share. He'd like to have a 15 to 16 share among all viewers; Life is stuck at 12.

Like everyone connected with Life, Harbert acknowledges that a major cause of its anemic numbers is its early timeslot. It's really a 10 p.m. show, but ABC has no available slots at that hour.

"Sure, (8 p.m.) is a lousy time period, but television stinks," Harbert said. "Not every show gets the time period it wants or deserves. It pains me to no end. I'm trying to solve that."

Meanwhile, Harbert will continue searching for answers on AOL.

"It's sort of like a big focus group with America. I don't have time to go to focus groups any more, so I can sit there and absorb the free association of the viewers. It's not statistically valid, but I'm looking for all the feedback I can get."

“Lately, I can't even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly.”

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