Twenty-one years after MY SO-CALLED LIFE first aired (on August 25, 1994), the show’s creator Winnie Holzman sat down on Wednesday evening with fellow writer from the show, Jason Katims, to relive moments from the fiercely beloved yet short-lived teen drama for our Master Class series.
Holzman and Katims obviously have gone on to create and write equally memorable pieces of work–Holzman wrote the book to the musical WICKED and Katims was the showrunner of acclaimed dramas PARENTHOOD and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. But there was a magic behind MY SO-CALLED LIFE’s 19 episodes, which put a young actress named Claire Danes on the map and so astutely captured the angst-ridden teenage experience, that it remains relevant and influential more than 20 years later.
“That show was special when you watched it on TV, but the process of making that show was incredibly special,” said Katims. “You couldn’t help but feel that when you were a part of it.”
The pair read one of Katim’s favorite scenes from Holzman’s pilot and shared stories, such as the time AJ Langer, the actress who played Rayanne Graff, showed up on the first shoot day with chicken pox, forcing Katims to rework his entire “Life of Brian” episode.
“That day, it was the most horrific thing in the world. I was devastated,” said Katims. “You come to understand that it’s actually going to potentially make it better. It did with that episode and it’s happened so many times. Over time, as you keep doing it, you get less freaked out when something like that comes up.”
“I used to call it the ‘crisis du jour,'” said Holzman. “[Producer] Alan Poul called it that when he used to come to me with things. In a way it was sort of welcoming and relaxing. He made it sound like a dessert.”
Holzman spoke about her special, collaborative relationship with Danes, who played central character Angela Chase. “Unlike a play or a movie, you travel through time with people, and those actors stay with you,” she said. “It’s very much a give-and-take. There’s a way in which Claire was absolutely taking from me and a way in which I was taking from her. I can’t even quantify what that was–that was just natural for both of us. We never talked about it [at the time]. It was so real and deep that we couldn’t even talk about it.”
Holzman also revealed that in a very early draft of the pilot, the character Graham Chase, Angela’s father, worked at the airport, but she changed his occupation to a printer, just like her own father.
“I was having some trouble and I pulled something that brought me some emotion,” she said. “If you mention the words ‘printing business,’ my dad downloads. It gives me emotion and brings me to a certain place.”
Stay tuned for the full podcast of the Master Class with Winnie Holzman and Jason Katims.
Podcast: Writers on Writing with Jason Katims