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The Fight For TV Favorites

USA Today
January 21, 1995

THE FIGHT FOR TV FAVORITES

Viewers are going all out to rescue "My So-Called Life," whose last episode airs Thursday.

It's such a simple thing, taking someone's hand. Yet anyone who's navigated the peaks and pitfalls of adolescence understands the significance when, at the end of an episode of ABC's "My So-Called Life", Jordan, the moody blue-jeans wearing object of young Angela's affection, publicly acknowledges their relationship by crossing a crowded school hallway and silently taking her hand in front of their peers. On the soundtrack: a soulful Buffalo Tom song.

It's a sock-in-the-gut moment, an example of what makes the drama series, as one crtitc put it, "capable of greatness". It's also an example of why fans of all ages lie awake Thursday nights reliving the memories evoked by each episode.

Sound like good TV? Well, if you're curious, you'd better tune in this week. The last episode of "My So-Called Life", which has won praise for its poignant writing, creative cinematography and extraordinary acting, airs Thursday at 8pm ET. After that it's "on hiatus" -- network-speak for "never say never, but it may never be back."

Even though "My So-Called Life" ranks 95th out of the season's 103 network series, many people say it deserves to be saved. Through the eyes and, often, voice-overs of 15-year-old Angela Chase (Claire Danes), the show exposes the sometimes raw, sometimes resonant moments that shape our coming of age. Coping with parents who aren't perfect, moving in a group of friends who range from geeky to gay to gregarious, Angela personifies both the occasionally deep emotionalism of high school's hormone-driven years. At the same time, "Life" touches on serious issues such as teen homelessness and sexual pressures. "Life" stands out, says "Hollywood Reporter" TV critic Miles Beller, because "it sustains an arc of drama. There is a sense to trying to probe characters in crisis, and that seems beyond what most television is trying to do." Beller finds "Life" one of the few shows that he enjoys personally as well as professionally. "Most TV wants to copy what's been done before. This show is trying to go for a window into the soul."

A show that's touched similar chords is Fox's "Party of Five" (Wednesdays, 9pm ET). This drama, also struggling in the ratings but bolstered by loyal viewers, manages to combine humor and heartbreak in a series about five siblings -- ranging in age from 24 years to 11 months -- trying to remain together in the family home after their parent's death. Dealing with issues such as household expenses, independence vs. responsibility and who answers to whom in their parentless situation, it presents surprising revelations about the concept of family. "'Party of Five' takes its subject seriously and has very good acting," notes "Los Angeles Daily News" television critic Ray Richmond. "It really tries to reach on a different level."

In fact, both "My So-Called Life" and "Party of Five" have grabbed some viewers so deeply that they have begun campaigns to save their shows. Viewers for Quality Television supports "Party of "Five" with a letter campaign, and now a group of fans calling themselves Operation Life Support, communicating via cyberspace, are organizing to convince ABC that "Life" should live. "We want to let the industry know that this show is a gem," says Support director Steven Joyner (right). (Picture shows Joyner in front of terminal displaying MSCL graphics, including Angela with both hands grasping her head. Joyner's hands are in the same position.)

The 27-year-old San Francisco-based author says he normally hates television. But "I heard about [life] on National Public Radio and made a point to watch it," Joyner says. "I find some episodes really get me. It's not just a sense of deja vu from my high school. This show is so layered, it's like watching a feature film." He says some of the fans at Operation Life Support tape episodes, rewatch them dozens of times and notice that "even the graffiti in the bathroom is pertinent." It's gotten to the point, Joyner says, amused, "where I find that Angela Chase's life is more important than mine on Thursday nights."

Nobody's amused, however, by the uphill effort required to save these shows. Though past write-in campaigns rescued "Quantam Leap", "Designing Women" and "Cagney and Lacey", advertisers may be unimpressed by viewer efforts. "If the shows haven't caught on or shown signs of being success- ful, the odds are pretty long that they will not be successful even if renewed," says Betsy Frank, a senior media analyst with the advertising firm of Saatchi & Saatchi.

Still, says Dorothy Swanson, the president of Viewers for Quality Television, this "doesn't mean we should stop writing. Writing a letter is your only vote." Certainly fans like Joyner of Operation Life Support aren't discouraged: Since he began organizing fans through online networks like Prodigy last Thanksgiving, Joyner has averaged 100 e-mail messages a day. The group has raised thousands of dollars for placing "open letters" in national publications to network executives, and recently had fans distribute 6,000 newsletters. Says Joyner, "I'm not typically the salt- of-the-earth type that gets out in the rain and sets up blockades or protests. But obviously I feel passionate about this show".

The caption next to the photo of Joyner reads "If you want to save Party of Five or My So-Called Life, write by January 29 to: SAVE SHOWS, USA WEEKEND, 1000 Wilson Blvd., Alrington, VA 22229 (or e-mail us at usawshow@aol.com). We'll send your votes to ABC and Fox executives, who will decide this spring whether to renew the shows."


“Do we have to keep talking about religion? It's Christmas.”

Danielle Chase, Episode 15: "So-Called Angels"