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"My So-Called Life" Creator Discusses TV Show

National Public Radio
January 22, 1995

`My So-Called Life' Creator Discusses TV Show

LIANE HANSEN, Host: This Thursday, the ABC television network will broadcast the season finale of My So-Called Life. It may also be the final show of the series. The episodic drama, told from a teenager' s point of view, is going on what is called `hiatus.' ABC executives are disappointed at the show's low Nielsen ratings, but will wait until May before deciding whether to renew or cancel it. Winnie Holzman is the co-executive producer and creator of My So-Called Life. She says the show's 8:00 time slot has been a drawback.

WINNIE HOLZMAN, Co-Executive Producer and Creator of My So-Called Life: Here you are, it's suddenly 8:00. You're not ready to kick back and watch something complex and deep. You really are not. You want to do that maybe at 9:00 or 10:00 when everyone's calmed down and everyone's had dinner and your day is really behind you. A lot of people, myself included, are just getting home and settling their dinner plans at 8:00. Everyone knows that, who has a busy schedule. It's just not the time for a complex drama.

Picture E.R. at 8:00. I mean, that's the type of stuff we've been trying to explain to the powers that be at ABC, that we feel that, despite the fact that we have teenagers in the show, we are complex and we're a very challenging show.

LIANE HANSEN: The teenagers in your show pretty much form the core group of the program. If I can, I just like to give a little brief description at least of some of the main characters that are in the show. We have a- they're all sophomores in high school? Age what-


LIANE HANSEN: -15, 16?

WINNIE HOLZMAN: Yeah, except one of them is older because he, you know, he's left back. But, umm-

LIANE HANSEN: Right. Ang- Angela Chase is the main character. She' s played by Claire Danes and she's, she's sort of the kind of- almost, on the surface, goody-goody girl in high school who's always agonizing over everything that's going on in her life, internalizing everything's that's going on with her life. She hangs around with a young woman named Rayanne Graff who is a kind of a fast girl, maybe from the `wrong side of the tracks' who also happens to have a serious problem with alcohol.


LIANE HANSEN: And then their friend Ricky, who is a homosexual. What is it you wanted to explore about this age group and their relationships with each other, their relationships with the people in their school, their relationship with their parents?

WINNIE HOLZMAN: Well, I think I wanted to, first of all, present people who were well-rounded and interesting, complex and not stereotypes. And I think that, in many ways, what I wanted to do was turn the stereotypes of high school on its ear a little bit and play with the idea of the good girl and the bad girl and play with the notion of the good boy and the bad boy and explore that, under the surface, that there's a lot more to people than just what they present. And, I felt the same way about the parents.

LIANE HANSEN: You also wanted to present the whole idea of communication. I think there is a big problem in this country about communication, particularly between teenagers and their parents. And, it is curious that in- throughout the series, you often deal with the subject of communication when people don't communicate. For example, Angela, for example, would say something to somebody, but we would hear what her thoughts are and her thoughts are totally different from what she's saying. So, you get this idea of non-communication between teenagers and saying- well particularly in Angela's case, her mother.

WINNIE HOLZMAN: Right. Well, I mean, I think people who've really been watching the series who know that, obviously, there have been times when she and her mother have communicated and it hasn't always been through words, you know.


WINNIE HOLZMAN: And sometimes they're least able to communicate through words.

LIANE HANSEN: There's a wonderful scene- I must tell you, I watch this with my daughter. She's 13, a little younger than the age group. But, there was a- the very first episode of the season, we were watching. She was in her bedroom, I was in mine and we were watching it and there was the line, they're all sitting getting down to dinner and Angela - Claire Daines, the actress - you hear her say, `I can't eat a balanced meal in front of my mother. It means too much to her.'

WINNIE HOLZMAN: You hear her think it.

LIANE HANSEN: She was thinking it.

WINNIE HOLZMAN: You don't hear her say it.

LIANE HANSEN: No, no, you hear her think it. And, I- both of us laughed at the same time from different rooms. And yet, I know we were laughing for different reasons.

WINNIE HOLZMAN: Right, right. Well, maybe not. I mean, maybe, maybe you were laughing for the same reason, which is that you know that it's true.


WINNIE HOLZMAN: I mean, but the thing that we've all tried to do, really, all of us that worked on it together, is we've tried to tear down a little bit the boundaries in our minds between these generations.

LIANE HANSEN: You also go into the problems of communication in schools, how teachers don't really hear what's going on with students. I mean, there was one running episode where Angela's- I guess I could him her `so-called' boyfriend.


LIANE HANSEN: We learn- we learn that she- he can't- he never learned how to read. He can't read. He has a problem with it. And-

WINNIE HOLZMAN: Well, he's one of these kids who, you know, nev- who had a little extra difficulty learning how to read in the beginning. And, I think a lot of people can identify with this because, you know, kids do fall through the cracks. This isn't an indictment of teachers. I mean, if you watch the show, you can see, I think, that we have a teacher character who is so warm and caring. And, we do that on purpose because I think teachers are heroes. But I'm talking about a system that often fails kids for so many reasons, where children sometimes are not noticed.

LIANE HANSEN: Have you come under a lot of criticism from like these TV watchdog groups that say that you're, you're- I mean, we hear- you have teenagers that have sex. You have teenagers that drink. You have gay teachers. You have-

WINNIE HOLZMAN: You're not going to believe this, but we have not come under heavy criticism. You know, sometimes we joke around the office and we, you know, because of our low ratings, and we say you know just- nobody knows we're on the air. So, we're getting away with all this stuff. But, the truth is, as I said to you before, you know, the ratings are the ratings. I mean 11 million people are watching the show.


WINNIE HOLZMAN: That's not nobody. That's just small, compared to ABC. On Fox, by the way, we'd be a huge hit with 11 million people every week. ABC just happens to be, you know, number one, so they're- what can you say, you know? I mean, they're, they're spoiled. They have much bigger numbers. But we do not get hate mail. We got like two hate letters and like thousands and thousands of warm, loving letters this year.

LIANE HANSEN: There's a big letter-writing campaign going on now. One on the Internet-


LIANE HANSEN: -trying to save the show - SOS - save our show.

WINNIE HOLZMAN: Yeah. Well, like MS magazine just came out in support of the show. Viewers For Quality Television is supporting the show. The show is not a big money-maker for ABC, and they're afraid that enough people aren't watching for them to justify it. But I got to say, even at ABC where they are afraid of this, there's huge support for the show, in terms of what the show is, what it stands for and what it's been. And, like I was saying to you before, I believe it could be more popular, given another time slot. I'm not saying it' s ever going to be like in the top 10, but I think it could be more popular than it is.

LIANE HANSEN: Winnie Holzman is the creator of the ABC television series My So-Called Life. The final episode of My So-Called Life airs this Thursday. Thanks a lot Winnie and good luck with this.

WINNIE HOLZMAN: Thanks. Thank you so much.

LIANE HANSEN: You're listening to Weekend Edition.

Copyright 1994 National Public Radio.

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

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