After nearly two years of researching My So-Called Life for this book I finally managed to find a copy of the pilot script written just before the final shooting script, and it is nothing short of a revelation. For years Winnie Holzman has been lauded for her writing on the show, and rightly so. But this script highlights another of her strengths – as an editor.
Which Script is this Again?
In My So-Called Life’s relatively short gestation period, the pilot went through a few different versions. This one, dated Dec. 15th, 1992, was an hour long (the first had been a half-hour) and still carried the show’s original title, Someone Like Me.
A good 90% of this script made it to air, but seeing the 10% that was changed reveals Holzman’s drive for perfection not just in storytelling, but also in the show’s use of language. While So Beautiful it Hurts: The Making of My So-Called Life will explore the script’s evolution in greater detail, there are two key changes worth mentioning here. Before we look at those, keep in mind that these changes were made less than 4 months before shooting on the pilot began began.
One of the hallmarks of My So-Called Life is the richness of its surnames, lending a real-life flavor to the series – there is not a Smith nor Jones to be found. While all the characters’ first names are the same in the older script, Rayanne, Sharon and Jordan are all missing their mellifluous last names. Jordan’s was famously changed during production when people had trouble pronouncing “Jordan Veniziano,” but Sharon Cherski and Rayanne Graff seem to have acquired their monikers purely for their musicality.
This isn’t just a scriptwriter at work, this is a poet. Hardly surprising as throughout high school and for four years in the undergrad creative writing program at Princeton University, Holzman perfected the art of distilling life into a few well chosen words and images, culminating in the winning of a prize from the Academy of American Poets.
As she explained to me, “I’m trying to be flavorful with everything I write, that’s not just limited to My So-Called Life. I’m always trying to paint a picture and I’m trying to evoke feelings; that’s kind of all I care about. Any name I choose is going to want to feel right. I mean ‘Rayanne’ - I can’t really say I know where it came from, but I just know that it felt right when I got there.”
The Patty and Graham Dynamic
One of the show’s great masterstrokes from a character building perspective is the personal and professional relationship of Angela’s parents. From the beginning Patty is running her father’s printing business, making her feel like she’s still a child with little agency in the world. Meanwhile, Graham is helping her at the print shop, giving him similar feelings of powerlessness and frustration. All of these feelings of wasted potential and shifting barriers between work and home life spill over brilliantly throughout the show.
In the Someone Like Me script, Graham is a manager of a Hilton hotel near the airport – still presumably wasting his potential – while Patty works for Health and Human Services, eliciting this great voice-over observation from Angela: “She’s good in an emergency. So she makes everything into one.” Though an excellent nod both to Patty’s keen sense of responsibility and the role she’ll play in saving Rayanne’s life in the episode “Other People’s Mothers,” this career might’ve been a little too fulfilling for a character often wrestling with feelings of inadequacy.
Finally, not having Graham working for Patty would’ve robbed the show of its greatest poetic irony: her firing him so he could pursue his culinary dreams, and in the process putting him on a collision course with Hallie Lowenthall and the affair that seemed destined to wreck their marriage...
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.”