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Set in Three Rivers, a fictional suburb somewhere near Pittsburgh, PA, "My So-Called Life" (a.k.a. MSCL) centers on Angela Chase, an intelligent, articulate 15-year-old sophomore at Liberty High. The story begins at a crucial turning point in Angela's so-called life -- the onset of adolescence, appropriately accompanied by the angst-ridden search for identity and the requisite teenage rebellion against family, old friends, and benign authority figures. All signaled by Angela's changing her hair color from blonde to Crimson Glow.
The series also focuses on Angela's parents, Patty and Graham Chase, two 40-year-old baby-boomers who are experiencing their own growing pains not unlike Angela's. Patty is horrified to hear herself saying the kinds of things her own mother said to her -- the sort of thing she never imagined herself saying. Graham finds himself experiencing his own identity crisis. With half his life behind him, he realizes he's stuck in a job he hates but feels obligated to do. While the two face their individual problems, they also struggle to keep their marriage from falling into the rut of boredom after so many years together.
Meanwhile, with all of this taking place under the Chases' roof, Danielle Chase, Angela's oft-forgotten 10-year-old sister, faces a challenge of her own. With everyone's attentions turned to her older sister, Danielle, a pre-teen with seemingly boundless energy, is constantly trying to be noticed. She often resorts to gymnastics just to avoid being mistaken for a hat rack.
Viewers get to peek into the adolescent mentality by eavesdropping on the protagonist's thoughts. Usually voiced over by series star Claire Danes, these range from the esoteric ("School is a battlefield for your heart") to the confessional ("I cannot bring myself to eat a well-balanced meal in front of my mother") to the refreshingly mundane ("Okay. So I have a zit").
At school, Angela is flanked by friends and classmates who round out the show's impressive cast: childhood friends Sharon Cherski and Brian Krakow, once close to Angela but left out in her new life; the fun-loving duo of Rayanne Graff and Rickie Vasquez, more in search of a good party than a good education; and resident enigma Jordan Catalano, the slow-blinking, great-leaning loner who is the object of Angela's intense but (perhaps) unrequited infatuation.
On Thursday, August 25th, 1994, at 8 p.m. PST, "My So-Called Life" first aired on ABC.
The Pilot for the show was shot in January of 1993 and shown to ABC's executives in April.
MSCL was produced by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, the creative team that helmed the successful "thirtysomething" series. However, this was not an edge MSCL needed as ABC's programmers reportedly flipped for the pilot. Ted Harbert, president of ABC's Entertainment division, said, "Not since 'Moonlighting' has there been a show that when the rough cut comes in, the place stops."
By early May ABC had reserved six slots for hour long series in its fall lineup. Unfortunitly, MSCL would not be one of them.
However, My So-Called Life still had a chance to become a mid-season replacement. Finally, on October 7th, 1993, ABC green- lighted 7 more episodes. Production could not resume until January 1994. This meant that MSCL would probably not air until March.
On October 24th, "The New York Times" featured an article on the show and ABC programmers' indecision over the MSCL time slot. By February, the word around town was that MSCL would be The Drama To Watch. "Newsweek" gave it a thumbs up, deeming Herskovitz and Zwick "the best (and brightest) the medium has. [...] They try to make TV forget its only teevee." When "Rolling Stone" came out with its Hot Issue, MSCL merited a mention as Hot TV Show: "[W]e wait for the inevitable moralizing conclusion -- or at least a public-service announcement. But it never comes." All this before the pilot had even aired.
Since they had such difficulty picking a time slot for MSCL they decided to wait for the fall season. Hoping to catch the attention of young viewers before school resumed, late August was set for the the long-awaited premiere.
Throughout June and July, ABC ran a batch of promos for MSCL, depicting the show as an honest, non-90210 portrayal of the teenage experience. The commercial voice-overs informed listeners that "Rolling Stone" had named MSCL the best new show of the season. Anticipation was high. ABC hoped for another "thirtysomething"-sized hit on their hands, and the MSCL team was eager to present their baby to the world. All that was left was for the show to premiere.
It did just that, on August 25th. Critics gave the show generally positive reviews, and even the detractors were praising star Claire Danes for her dead-on portrayal of Everyteen. In an otherwise unremarkable season, reviewers embraced the originality and authenticity MSCL had to offer. Now if only the Nielsen families could do the same... Showing their faith in MSCL, ABC ordered six more episodes, the first of which aired Oct. 27th. The network later ordered four additional episodes, bringing the total to 19 episodes, just 4 under a complete season. Recognizing the series' unique spin, the Viewers for Quality Television recently added MSCL to its Qualified Support list. Operation Life Support, an organization of fans dedicated to generating support for MSCL, was organized in November by Steve Joyner and Robyn Landis.
"People Magazine" listed MSCL in their "Best of Tube" list in its year-end issue. Claire was also included in it's section on "New Faces." "Time" mentioned MSCL in their best of TV section, as have many other noteworthy newspapers and magazines. On Dec. 22nd, Golden Globe nominations were announced, and our own Claire Danes received MSCL's only nod, as Best Actress (Drama). She faced stiff competition from Kathy Baker ("Picket Fences") and Angela Lansbury ("Murder, She Wrote"), and (no) competition from Jane Seymour ("Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman") and Heather Locklear ("Melrose Place"). Danes won the award.
On Dec. 5th, ABC delivered the first bit of crushing news: after the last of the new episodes airs in January, MSCL would go on hiatus (a word often associated with, but not necessarily synonymous for Cancellation). Despite the rave reviews, MSCL was one of ABC's worst rated programs. Harbert stressed that the show was a "strong candidate" for renewal, but his reluctance to give MSCL the support it deserved was not a good sign. It's the kind of thing that makes fans cry, and many of us actually have. On May 15th, 1995, ABC handed MSCL it's final blow.