SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — The Boston Globe newsroom is curiously quiet on this weekday. It is also remarkably tidy and very, very dark.
This is because we are not actually in the Globe newsroom but 3,000 miles away in a facsimile, the Boston Post, the fictional workplace of the lead character on the new ABC Family series “Chasing Life.”
The dramedy, premiering Tuesday at 9 p.m., tells the story of rookie Post reporter April Carver (Italia Ricci, “Don Jon”), as she navigates newsroom politics and competition, her burgeoning romance with Post arts and entertainment reporter Dominic (Richard Brancatisano), and the life-altering cancer diagnosis she receives shortly after the pilot episode begins. (Hence the title.)
“Life” shot portions of that pilot in and around Boston, including at the Globe offices.
Inspecting the faux newsroom during a “Life” production hiatus, it’s clear the production designers took notes — and pictures — to help capture the sometimes close-quartered haphazardness of that environment. “We tried to make it look realistic and messy,” says co-executive producer Joni Lefkowitz, today’s tour guide. But lovely wall murals depicting Boston landmarks like the Hatch Shell and Faneuil Hall, spacious offices, spick-and-span desktops, and unusually fresh carpeting give away that we are indeed on a set.
Lefkowitz, along with fellow co-executive producer and longtime writing partner Susanna Fogel and showrunner Patrick Sean Smith (“Greek”), lead a reporter through the show’s various Boston locales, including the newsroom and the gorgeous, TV-spacious Beacon Hill home April shares with her widowed mother, Sara (Mary Page Keller), her troubled kid sister, Brenna (Haley Ramm), and grandmother Emma (Rebecca Schull). If it weren’t for the palm trees and balmy temperatures outside, you could believe you were in Boston.
“Life” began life as a Mexican telenovela, cheerily named “Terminales.” After several attempts by different writers, the producers called on Lefkowitz and Fogel. The pair have been writing partners since meeting up in an improv comedy writing class in 2002 and, up until “Life,” mainly scripted unproduced films and pilots that didn’t go to series. (The pair is currently leading a double “Life,” as Fogel’s feature-film directorial debut, “Life Partners,” co-written with Lefkowitz and based in part on their working relationship and friendship, makes the festival rounds.)
Lefkowitz, a Chicago native, remembers the producers thinking the pair wouldn’t be a good fit for “Chasing Life” since they’re mainly comedy writers. But when she and Fogel — who grew up in Providence and now spends a lot of time in Lexington, where her parents live — heard the premise, they were intrigued.
“Our background is comedy, but we like things that have emotion,” says Lefkowitz, citing favorite shows from the 1990s like “My So-Called Life,” “Felicity,” and “Party of Five.”
“In doing a dramedy that’s character driven and doesn’t really pander, but has characters of different ages and doesn’t mind a female skewing [of the audience], it feels like [ABC Family’s] taken over where the networks have dropped the ball,” says Fogel. “Or like the old WB network used to be,” adds Lefkowitz, finishing her partner’s thoughts, as the two frequently do.
“It feels like those shows from the ’90s don’t really exist anymore, so this felt like a great opportunity to bring some humor and heart to something that is a really depressing subject matter,” says Lefkowitz, noting that humor was a must. “Because even if the darkest things happen to you, that doesn’t shut off your sense of humor, you’re still the same person. You have to make light of it. It’s a dark subject matter but we don’t want people to dread watching the show.”
Ricci, in a phone interview, concurs. She spoke with cancer patients who told her that their diagnoses didn’t necessarily consume their lives around the clock. “It’s not a show about cancer,” says Ricci. “It’s a show about a girl who is living her life, and it’s got a touch of cancer.”
“Chasing Life” features plenty of Boston touches — but mercifully no botched attempts at the accent — as the production returns to the city periodically to shoot location elements on Beacon Hill, the waterfront, and in the North End.
“It’s a beautiful city, and we felt like it was the right vibe and tone we were going for,” says Lefkowitz. (The show was originally scheduled to shoot in Boston, as well, but production issues moved it to California.) “It’s pretty and historic and moody, and it feels like a lot of great hospitals are there, so it felt like [April] would have gotten good medical care there, and we want to keep her alive as long as we can,” says Lefkowitz with a laugh.
Just as Ricci says that the spunky April is a combination of Fogel, Lefkowitz, and herself, other characters have their inspirations close to home. Keller’s character is a therapist, as is Fogel’s mother. Fogel says when she showed a few episodes to family members recently, “every time [Sara] overanalyzed something, everyone in the room laughed.”
ABC Family has picked up a full first season of “Chasing Life,” with the first 10 episodes set to air through the summer and the second 10 beginning in January. Fogel is hopeful it will strike a chord with viewers who shared her and Lefkowitz’s love for 1990s TV programs.
“Those shows would attract teens and 20-somethings, and people would watch with their parents,” she says. “If we can fill that niche, that would be great.”Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.