My So-Called Life was an American teen drama television series created by Winnie Holzman and produced by Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. It originally aired on ABC from August 25, 1994, to January 26, 1995. It was set in the fictional Liberty High School in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it follows the emotional travails of several teenagers in the social circle of main character Angela Chase, played by Claire Danes. The critically acclaimed but short-lived show ended in a cliffhanger with the expectation that it would be picked up for an additional season, but it was officially canceled on May 15, 1995.
My So-Called Life dealt with major social issues of the early 1990s, including child abuse, homophobia, teenage alcoholism, homelessness, adultery, school violence, censorship, and drug use. Many shows at the time used these themes as a one-time issue (a “very special episode”) that was introduced as a problem at the beginning of an episode and resolved at the end, but on My So-Called Life these issues were part of the continuing storyline. The title of the show alludes to the perception of meaninglessness that many teenagers experience and encapsulates the main theme of the series. The show depicts the teenage years as being difficult and confusing rather than a light, fun-filled time.
An online fan campaign attempted to save My So-Called Life, the first such event in the history of the World Wide Web. The arduous schedule and the mental and physical demands of the production of episodic television, however, caused difficulties for the young actors who had to balance schoolwork with rehearsal and time on the set. Herskovitz said Danes and her parents approached the show’s creators and told producers that she did not want to be involved with the show if it continued for a second season.
When she heard that Danes was no longer keen to continue with the show, Holzman’s attitude changed as well. She said, “When I realized that Claire truly did not want to do it any more, it was hard for me to want to do it. The joy in writing the show was that everyone was behind it and wanted to do it. And I love her. So part of the joy and excitement and happiness would have gone out of me if she had not been on board 100 percent. I wasn’t able to say this at the time, but in retrospect it was a blessing for it to end at a time when we all enjoyed doing it. That’s not to say that if the network had ordered more shows that I wouldn’t have given it my best. But there was a rightness in how short the season was. This was a show about adolescence and sort of ended in its own adolescence. There was an aura about how short the series was like all things that die young. The show ended at a point that it was still all potential.”
The rumors of the end of the show strongly divided its fans. Flame wars raged across the Internet, especially after Steve Joyner of Operation Life Support (a group that worked to save the show) and some cast members confirmed the rumors — angry themselves, in some cases.
In a September 2004 edition of Entertainment Weekly, Danes insisted that she didn’t have enough power to cause the cancellation by herself. It is generally accepted that ABC considered bringing the show back for a second season and may have even intended to (as then-executive Ted Harbert claims) due to its devoted fanbase, its quality and its critical acclaim. However, low ratings kept the network from reviving it. Winnie Holzman theorized that the network was so on-the-fence about renewing the show that in some ways they used Danes’ reluctance to return as a convenient excuse not to renew the series.