Ed Zwick Remembers Making Of ‘My So-Called Life’: “I Vowed To Portray Real Adolescence”

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As My So-Called Life nears its 30th anniversary, Executive Producer Ed Zwick took a walk down memory lane Saturday to remind folks about working on the before-its-time drama that starred Claire Danes.

In a long X thread, Zwick shared an “origin story” about how he was first drawn to the work of Winnie Holzman before he would end up co-EPing her script with longtime producing partner Marshall Herskovitz. Zwick chronicles his work on My So-Called Life, as well as thirtysomething, The Last Samurai and Glory in his upcoming book “Hits, Flops and Other Illusions,” out in February.

“Kristy McNichol played ‘Buddy,’ an adolescent girl on ABC-TV’s Family,” Zwick began. “I’d write surly teenage dialogue and get network notes on my scripts with the initials N.O.B. meaning “not our Buddy.” I vowed someday I’d get to portray real adolescence.”

“Marshall wrote a provocative pilot for Showtime called “Secret Seventeen” about unruly, unapologetic, wised-up, highly sexualized teenagers in mall culture,” Zwick continued. “The network barely read it and summarily passed. He vowed someday he’d get to portray real adolescence.”

Then, they met Holzman. “Some writers have a way of creating a voice at once strikingly original and utterly familiar,” Zwick wrote. “As an exercise she began writing Angela’s journal. When we read it we realized she was already writing the pilot. For extra authenticity, she went to teach at a middle-school.”

As for casting the then-unknown Danes, Zwick explains, “she was fourteen when we met her. Her audition was mind-blowing. There are certain actors so preternaturally gifted it takes your breath away. What they know simply can’t be taught. One problem: no one had ever done an hour drama about a teenager with a real teenager … California has strict child labor laws governing the number of hours a minor can work each day. That meant reconceiving the show. Like many such compromises in series TV, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It became an ensemble.”

To help pull off the pilot, Zwick and Herskovitz turned to their old pals from thirtysomething. “Scott Winant directed the pilot,” Zwick wrote on X. “Liberty Godshall and Richard Kramer wrote episodes. Pat Norris created Angela’s look. We discovered Jason Katims writing plays while living in his parents’ apartment. And Winnie’s touch was on every script.”

As for finding their perfect Jordan Catalano, Zwick said “Jared [Leto] was older. A movie star in the making, but also sweet and unpretentious. He was joined by Devon [Odessa] & AJ [Langer] as Angela’s besties, and of course the forever yearning Devon Gummersall [as Brian Krakow]. Meanwhile, Graham [Tom Irwin] and Patty’s [Bess Armstrong] marriage cast an unexpectedly dark shadow over Angela’s world.”

“Winnie’s first draft described Rickie Valdez as lovable, Puerto Rican, and gay,” Zwick continued. “Impossible to find, we thought. And then Wilson Cruz walked in. The first openly gay teenager to play an openly gay character on network TV, he became a role model for countless others.”

Zwick then ended his sentimental thread by starting a tweet with the word TORTURE in caps. “Despite admitting how much the show meant to their daughters and to a rabidly devoted fan base, the network refused to see the culture as it was changing around them. Their infamous last words: “Teenagers just aren’t an important market for our advertisers.”

Fortunately, MTV was there to pick up the pieces. “MTV ran it endlessly in wildly successful marathons,” Zwick said. “There’s a famous exchange between Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg: Mayer wanted to buy the rights to Gone with the Wind. “Forget it, L.B.,” said Thalberg. “No Civil War movie ever made a nickel.”

“To this day every interesting woman I meet between ages 35 and 50 gets this glazed look at the mention of the show – the equivalent of Taylor Swift fans who feel “seen” by her songs and know all the words,” Zwick said, wrapping up his thread. “Men, too. In a way, we are all fifteen year-old girls.”

My So-Called Life aired on ABC from 1994 to 1995.

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