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A Conversation With 'My So-Called Life' Creator Winnie Holzman

The 1994 cult classic TV show “My So-Called Life” launched the careers of Claire Danes and Jared Leto and was a critical success, but was canceled after one season.

Here & Now‘s Robin Young sat down with Winnie Holzman and hundreds of fans at a screening of the show’s pilot, for a talk about writing about teens and female friendships – even between witches. Holzman also wrote the book for the stage musical “Wicked.”

Holzman is about to stage a brand new play at the Huntington Theater in Boston. It’s called “ Choice” and Holzman says it’s about the right to choose to have an abortion, but she’s hoping to open up a conversation about abortion in a way that isn’t happening currently. In fact, she says while abortion is a serious topic, her play is a comedy.

Interview Highlights

On where Holzman got the idea for “My So-Called Life”

“There’s many, many drafts, but there is one thing I could say in terms of the voice and her. I was writing the pilot and I was kind of stuck and Ed said a really beautiful thing to me. I was scared, I’d never written a pilot before. And he said ‘don’t try to write the pilot, just write her diary.’ We’re always looking for that – creatively – we’re always looking for what’s going to unlock us. That’s part of our job, to find out what will unlock us. So I did start to write diary entries, and some of them are right in there.”

Did you take anything from your own high school experiences?

“Well yeah, but I also made stuff up. One of the things I did when I was first writing it, I lived in Los Angeles and there’s a high school, it was a pretty intense place and I was able to go for two days – that’s all I could take – I did some guest teaching, and that… you know that Stanislavsky thing about using sense memory, getting things that help unlock memories and emotions. The discovery I made was that, really in America, if you went to high school in our country, it doesn’t really matter where you went to high school. In a funny way, all high schools are the same. There’s a feeling, and I had forgotten what it was like to be imprisoned in a room and you couldn’t get up and leave and you had to wait for that horrible clock, and then all the trash in the hallways. There was a lot of trash, a lot of kids asleep, a lot of kids holding down another job. And I was trying to capture all of that.”

On the show being canceled after one season

“I just feel like it was perfect the way it was. I mean not immediately, I was devastated for a while. But you move on, and the perspective that I got back then was it’s really important to define for yourself what is success. Did we express ourselves in a meaningful way? And that’s what I believe.”

How would you have ended the series?

“What I would have done in the next season, I would have had Angela be involved with Jordan and it would have been a very difficult relationship – I mean think about it. And I would have had Angela and Brian, the two neighbors, look to each other for help and advice for relationships, even though in a way they were meant to be with each other.”

On her new play, “Choice”

“It’s a play about a woman who is a journalist who starts to investigate a story she’s going to write. And as she gets pulled into this story she starts to question her own life. And I wanted to write something that would touch on the question of a woman’s right to choose. People are on one side or another, and I thought to myself, I wish there could be a play that could open up the subject, letting it be okay that we talk about it in maybe a deeper way… and plus it’s funny. Be prepared for an incredibly funny play about abortion.”

Guest

  • Winnie Holzman, creator of ‘My So-Called Life’ and a new play called ‘Choice’.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Winnie Holzman is known for creating "My So Called Life," "thirtysomething" and the book for the stage musical "Wicked." (Huntington Theatre Company)
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Winnie Holzman is known for creating "My So Called Life," "thirtysomething" and the book for the stage musical "Wicked." (Huntington Theatre Company)