May 31, 1995

All Too Real Its True-To-Life Relevance For Millions Of Teenagers Wasn’t Enough To Keep ‘My So-Called Life’ Alive On Abc

Lynn Smith Los Angeles Times
 

Fifteen-year-old Nicole Joseph-Goteiner used to be a closet “Beverly Hills, 90210” watcher. “Whenever someone talked about how they love that show, I tried not to say anything because I didn’t want to admit it,” she said.

But then along came “My So-Called Life” - another high school stew, but one with lower rent, darker moods and a 15-year-old main character named Angela Chase (played by Claire Danes). No fantasy of privileged teens, it showed real life as many teenagers say they perceive it, portrayed by characters who think obsessively, are constantly tempted and listen to the same angst-ridden music.

Suddenly, Nicole said, “‘My So-Called Life’ took the place of ‘90210.”’

Even a fierce outpouring of support by fans, and a widely watched marathon on MTV May 6-7 apparently couldn’t save it.

MTV, whose Senior Vice President Joe Davola called the show “the best dramatic portrayal of teenage life in America,” will continue to run episodes through June 2.

Meanwhile, “Beverly Hills, 90210” rolls merrily along. Three years ago, when its rich, handsome characters were still in high school, the series was “the most popular show we’ve ever seen among teen-age girls,” said Irma Zandl, president of the Zandl Group, a New York marketing consulting company specializing in youth.

But many teens believe “My So-Called Life” did high school better. Nicole, a reporter with Children’s Express, a national journalism organization, called “90210” a fantasy. “I’m not blond; I’m not tall; I’m not beautiful. I’m not extremely wealthy. I don’t drive a Porsche. I live in the same kind of house that Angela lives in on ‘My So Called Life.’ ”

“With Angela, she just thinks to herself and she says, you know, ‘Why do I think all the time?’ This is what teenagers - or at least a lot of my friends - go through in high school. They think about everything. They sort of have this conscience that’s always gnawing away at them.”

Nicole’s favorite episode was the one in which Angela and all her friends break every New Year’s resolution, including abstaining from sex without love and giving up alcohol.

“90210” Executive Producer Charles Rosin, who grew up in Beverly Hills, argued that the series is actually a realistic show for some kids. Its fictional West Beverly High is not unlike private schools in Los Angeles.

But Nicole doesn’t buy it. “Beverly Hills, 90210” is just too neat. “Every episode has to conquer some idea. They have to talk about drugs. Then Dylan’s getting car-jacked. Then the problem goes away and in the next episode, another problem arises.”

Zandl’s most recent poll showed that 10 percent of teen girls ranked “90210” as their favorite television show with 7 percent naming “My So-Called Life.”

“Seeing that the show started later in the year, it indicates ‘My So-Called Life’ is probably as strong as ‘90210’ if not stronger,” Zandl said.

Sad and disappointed, Marshall Herskovitz, one of “My So-Called Life’s” executive producers, said that although the series didn’t reap the ratings of “Beverly Hills, 90210” in its heyday, it still was seen by at least 10 million people a week. Many of them were girls between the ages of 11 and 16, who have no other voice in the public sphere and instead are “bombarded by terribly destructive voices and images.”

“I think we performed a real service and I feel proud of that.”

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