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Save "My So-Called Life"

Star Tribune
February 1995

Please save "My So-Called Life"

For months, "Christy," a CBS family drama, lingered in limbo, existing in that peculiar network netherworld reserved for programs excluded from the nightly lineup of shows, but not yet slated for the cancellation ax. Although the producers had 11 new episodes of the one-hour drama starring Kellie Martin and Tyne Daly ready to air, no one seemed sure when, if ever, those shows would be seen.

But fans of the rural drama refused to let their favorite show quietly fade away. They made telephone calls. They wrote and faxed letters. They e-mailed network executives. And they took out an advertisement in several daily newspapers last month: "Whatever happened to Christy? That's a question you should ask CBS."

Apparently enough people asked CBS that question for the network to announce last week that "Christy" would return Saturday (7 p.m., WCCO-Ch. 4), and network executives credited fans for saving the show.

"The return of `Christy' is a tribute to the loyalty and support of the show's viewers," said Bill Allen, president of MTM Television. "They wrote and called CBS in record numbers, and the network responded."

It's the television fans' version of fighting city hall. Take their favorite show off the air, and they toss aside their remotes and reach for the telephones or paper and pen, or hop on the information superhighway to rally the like-minded on the Internet and online services such as Compuserve, Prodigy and America Online. Sometimes their efforts succeed, as with "Christy"; other times they are less successful. But increasingly, television fans won't let their shows go down without a fight.

"For a lot of years the networks were viewed as this great almighty universe where the only common people who counted were those mysterious Nielsen families," said Michael G. Kolwaller, a free-lance writer and television analyst in Los Angeles. "Now people who watch TV - and that means the majority of us - have really found their voices and their power in helping the networks decide what's on the air and off the air."

The success of the campaign to bring back "Christy" may be a boost for fans of "My So-Called Life," the acclaimed ABC drama starring Claire Danes as a 15-year-old girl negotiating life and the minefield of adolescence. Although the show drew about 10 million viewers weekly, its ranking was 106th out of 127 shows.

During an America Online forum in January, ABC Entertainment president Ted Harbert wrote, "One of the unfortunate things about my job is that even though there are 10 million `My So-Called Life' fans out there, the brutally competitive nature of my business requires that I try to put on shows that more people will watch."

But even before the show was placed on hiatus last month, support for it was building. A group called "Operation Life Support" on America Online raised money for two full-page advertisements on the program's behalf in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. And while ABC officials decide the show's fate, MTV, the music video cable network, has picked up the rights to all 19 episodes of the show. The program will run weekdays at 6 p.m. on MTV all this month.

"Everybody here loves the show, and our audience loves the show," said Joe Davola, MTV's senior vice president of original programming. "Maybe we can raise the awareness."

Raising awareness of television shows they consider worthwhile is the goal of Viewers for Quality Television. The Virginia-based group is involved in campaigns to save "My So-Called Life," the NBC police drama "Homicide," the Fox family drama "Party of Five" and the CBS crime drama "Under Suspicion."

Yet while she encourages viewers to support their favorite programs, VQT founder and president Dorothy Swanson believes too many campaigns for too many shows can undermine overall effectiveness.

"The problem occurs when it's overdone. If you have a campaign for every show that comes down the pike, I think people get tired of it," she said. "This organization is very picky about which shows we go to the well for. If we did this all the time, no one would pay attention to it. But I'm always an advocate of viewers asserting their power."

Copyright 1995 Star Tribune.

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

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