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Focus : Parallel Lives : WHAT HAPPENS WHEN 'TEENSOMETHING' MEETS 'FORTYSOMETHING'? 'EVERYTHING AND NOTHING'

August 21, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, the creators and executive producers of the yuppie favorite "thirtysomething," had long wanted to do a show exploring the trials and tribulations of adolescence.

"It has been a subject of concern for us," says Zwick. "It was an idea before 'thirtysomething,' " Herskovitz adds.

ABC's "The Wonder Years" and even "Doogie Howser, M.D.," received acclaim for their portrayal of teen-agers, but Herskovitz and Zwick have not been thrilled with the way teen life generally has been depicted on the small screen. They hope to change all that in their new ABC series, "My So-Called Life," which examines teen life from a female point of view.

"I think our feeling had been that most depictions of adolescence had been exploitative in the sense that they exploited those aspects of teen-age years that are titillating or stimulating," explains Herskovitz, who is executive producer with Zwick. "The sexuality of it. The violence of it. What we objected to in the portrayal of teen-agers was they were portrayed by older people. They did not capture the essence of change and youth that only a child of that age can give you."

The hour drama, premiering Thursday, revolves around the everyday existence of Angela Chase, a bright, introspective 15-year-old, played by newcomer Claire Danes. Angela arrives at a crossroads: She has grown away from her best girlfriend and begun to hang out with the class wild girl; she quits the yearbook and dyed her brown hair flaming red. She even falls for a boy who has repeated the same grade. She's not the only one going through an identity crisis; her parents, Bess Armstrong and Tom Irwin, are approaching their 40s with midlife crisis written all over them.

Winnie Holzman, a former "thirtysomething" writer, created the series and is co-executive producer. What makes the series unique, Holzman says, is its female perspective.

"I don't want to say it is all brand new, because nothing is brand new, but I don't think that is done as much as it is with boys. I think it's always a wonderful feeling to do something maybe people didn't expect or maybe a little different than what they are used to."

The series, Herskovitz explains, is about "everything and nothing. I think our point about adolescence is how intense and overamped every moment seems to be whether it's an issue with a teacher or an issue with a friend. The plots, such as they are, are merely the ways to give voice to the other agendas."

Holzman acknowledges there are stylistic and thematic similarities between "My So-Called Life" and "thirtysomething."

"I think one of the similarities is these shows are about people's emotions, maybe a little more than other shows," Holzman explains. "That's the thing that kind of makes it like life. The emotions don't always have to be about big huge events, because in our lives very tiny things can trigger very big emotions. That's what I find interesting to write about. There's a level where we are all interested in the small details of life."

Before creating the series, Holzman recalls, she read an article in a fashion magazine about the hormonal changes that happen to women approaching menopause and the fact that they're similar to what happens when a girl hits adolescence.

"It has similar effects because you are hormonally imbalanced at the time," Holzman says. "That (fact) captures the whole show for me because, for me, that's what it's about. The mom and the daughter are facing a lot of similar identity crises and actually the dad, too. It seems as though they are in completely different places in their lives, but when you scrape away from the surface and get down to it, it's similar."

Middle age, she says, is a natural time of questioning and "reassessing the path they took in life. The parents are going through, to some extent, a midlife crisis while their daughter is going through the crisis of identity which is adolescence. They have more in common than they realize. I find that so touching."

Angela's school friends also are struggling. "That's the singular link for the whole show," Holzman says. "Everyone in the show is engaged in that struggle. Hopefully, sometimes comically."

Ideally, Holzman would like families to watch the series together so they can "laugh about the same things and cry about the same things. I think that everybody's point of view is fairly represented. The parents are not made out as buffoons and the kids are not made out to be irresponsible, although they may do irresponsible things. The parents may make mistakes, but basically there's a respect for all the characters. I think people are all struggling and trying to do their best. "

"My So-Called Life" premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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