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'My So-Called Life' and the Dividends of Nurturing Talent

The quote above isn’t just a sweet image, it reveals one of the reasons why My So-Called Life’s audience – and the people who made the show – still look back on it so lovingly 25 years later.

A Creative Safe Harbor

It isn't rare to hear a television show’s cast and crew describe their ensemble as feeling like a family. What is rare is this being attributed to the positive way in which they were treated on set. More often you’ll hear members of a production describe themselves as being like “war buddies” – people thrown together in their day-to-day battles with the Powers That Be.

This was not the case on My So-Called Life. In nearly 30 interviews so far, members of the creative team have described to me a working environment that demanded only one thing of them: “Bring your skills and talent to the table to make this program the best that it can be.” No delicate egos, no petty gripes, and miraculously no interference from outside forces (aka network executives).

The tone was set by executive producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, creator Winnie Holzman, and reinforced by a number of directors, producers and members of the crew who had worked with the triumvirate before.

As a result, actors and directors and wardrobe and lighting people – everyone felt their suggestions mattered, and they gave it their all in return.

'A Fly on the Wall'

For the adults in front of and behind the camera, this meant a welcome change from the usual bubble-wrap egos and hoop-jumping that’s constituted so much of television since the medium’s earliest days. For the young people, however, this was something more – a chance to learn as much as they could about how to make television and film.

Director Scott Winant (Pilot, "Dancing in the Dark," "So Called Angels") gave Devon Gummersall a unique insight into capturing what you want to capture on film as a director.

“I asked him if I could come and watch him work on his director’s cut of one of his episodes," he told me. "I mean I’m a 15 year old kid, but he took me in there and was super-open about his process.”

The show’s creator was just as forthcoming, he remembers now. “A lot of times Winnie and [“Life of Brian” episode writer] Jason Katims would be in Winnie’s office working....and they would let me hang out in there and be a fly on the wall. That was an amazing experience. Winnie and Jason both saw that I was serious about wanting to be a writer and filmmaker and they were very encouraging; they gave me the confidence early in my career to believe that it was a worthy endeavor for me to branch out.”

And branch out Gummersall did. In addition to acting, today he is also a film and television writer and director.

There were more than 200 people credited with being involved in My So-Called do the math.

So Beautiful it Hurts’ is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with ABC, The Bedford Falls Co.,or anyone involved with the making or distribution of “My So-Called Life.”


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