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As Told By Ginger: Why the show still feels so real 10 years later

‘It was a personal show and Nickelodeon let it be that,’ says creator Emily Kapnek

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The Nickelodeon set first met Ginger Foutley more than 15 years ago, following along as the teenage student made her way through three seasons and dozens of awkward junior high situations. At the time, As Told By Ginger was celebrated for how real, and even personal, it felt — something that comes across even now, a decade after it ended. For the show’s writers, it was personal.

“A lot of Ginger’s stories were borrowed from my childhood, and the childhoods of the people working on the show. I identified with her a lot,” creator Emily Kapnek tells EW about her time on the series. “It was a personal show and [Nickelodeon] let it be that.” 

The Emmy-nominated series followed the adventures of Ginger as she and best friends, , and their adventures into the weird and unknown. 

Ten years after the Nicktoons series finale, EW caught up with Kapnek all about Ginger.

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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One of the things that really resonated with fans was the authenticity of the show. Was that important to you from the beginning?

KAPNEK: Absolutely. The year that I wrote the pilot, I think, was the year that Welcome to the Dollhouse came out, which was a hugely influential movie for me. I so much identified with that character and I just kept thinking, “Why has no one done an animated show that really looks at all of the angst of being that junior high school age [when] you’re so awkward and want to fit in but also want to stand out [and] not knowing how to do both. That was the whole motivation. Plus, just a healthy dose of reality. I didn’t feel there were a lot of cartoons that were really honest and dealt with real issues that kids were dealing with. The plan was to have Ginger clearly grappling with a lot of the milestone stuff that kids deal with, [like] the pressure to fit in, the pressure to look a certain way, shave her legs, etc. It’s like they would never have let us tell a story about drug pressure or whatever, but we had an episode called “Stuff Will Kill You” that was Ginger getting hooked on coffee and caffeine. It was our answer to that.

The show was also unusual in that Ginger and her friends actually changed clothes and aged. 

I feel like that idea came from Mark Risley, who was a director that worked on the show. I think he actually pitched the idea that they grow up and their outfits change. It just made so much sense to me. To that end, we wanted the [characters] to continue aging every year that the girls got older. It would make the show feel that much more real and lend authenticity to these animated characters, to have them actually get older, change their hair, their looks, and even graduate the school that we saw them in.

Looking back, what are you most proud of from the show’s run?

I’m proud of Ginger as a character. It’s not really one specific thing. But to get to tell a show about a girl whose dad doesn’t show up when she’s expecting him to, whose appendix ruptures, [who] gets broken up with, and has these dark poems. I just felt like she was such a three-dimensional two-dimensional character. That part of it is exciting. To tell stories that I felt really were rich and complex — in a format that I didn’t think had really done that before — it felt a little exciting and, not to be too lofty about it, but a little bit groundbreaking for me. Just in the animation world, at that time, there wasn’t tons of stuff like that on the air. 

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Ginger’s friendship with Courtney was interesting because it wasn’t what you’d expect. Was that based on anyone in particular?

I grew up in the city and my mom moved us to Westchester. I drew on those years of us feeling a bit like city kid transplants in a world that was suburban, and it seemed like everyone was rich. We had a single mom and it seemed like everyone’s parents were married. We just felt like such odd ducks trying to assimilate. Courtney was just based on a bunch of girls I went to school with. I think they were fascinated by us city kids. We were a little grimier, our mom was never home and we had our own keys. Back then it was not as common [so] we were definitely a novelty. There were a lot of girls that seemed so privileged and they had everything, [but] at the same time, they were a little bit complex and Courtney was a little complex. I think that she felt a little empty. Ginger [and Courtney’s] friendship felt so real [so] she was just always drawn to Ginger and wanted that a little for herself. I loved their relationship. Courtney was such a great character. It wasn’t that the water ran that deep, but you definitely felt that she had the possibility for more. They did wind up being friends. We really wanted all the characters to be really well-rounded, and have their own personalities, and their own issues, and… carry their own storylines, as they did.

Carl and Hoodsey’s friendship was one of the show’s best parts. How did you approach telling that story?

There was some conversation about the boy angle and trying to find an entry point so that it wasn’t alienating and just a show about teenage girls and their emotions. Hoodsey was based on a friend of Eryk Casemiro. He gave a lot to those storylines and kept that boy element alive for us. Carl, I just wound up becoming in love with him and the family dynamic of the three of them. Hoodsey and Carl’s passion should have gone on forever. They were such great friends [and] a really fun dynamic to go to. [Also] Blake Gripling as their little foil. They had their little version of the Courtney dynamic there and he certainly felt like he wanted that same friendship and wanted in to that little social circle. All of the writers loved that storyline.

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The show had such memorable music, from the theme song to even the music within episodes, with songs like “It’s Courtney” or “I’m A Little Seal Girl.” How was that process?

Music is always a really big part of anything I work on. For me it was just a fun outlet, so I wanted Ginger to have that. It seemed a little bit more dynamic than her just writing in her journal all the time, and a good way to express hers feelings. I love music and songwriting so it was a natural fit. Jared Faber, who did the music for As Told By Ginger, he and I are old, old friends. We actually went to high school together. 

[Also] Macy Gray is a riot. We had the most fun recording the theme song with her. There were so many different versions. We had one version where Melissa Disney sang it [and] one where Cree Summer, who played Miranda, sang it. Then, finally, we got Macy Gray. That was just a blast. I don’t think I’ll ever forget recording her singing that song because I was definitely starstruck and super excited. That was a big, big deal, realizing it’s getting bigger than our little world in the animation studio once we had Macy Gray stroll up and record the theme song.

Do you have any favorite episodes?

I would have to say that I love “Hello Stranger.” That was the first one we got an Emmy nomination for. We wound up having three Emmy nominations. It’s remarkable because they were Primetime Emmy nominations, we were up against shows like The Simpsons. People were like, “What is As Told By Ginger?” No one had ever even heard of it. I [also] really loved “And She Was Gone,” which was probably one of our darkest episodes. That also was based on something that had actually happened to me where I wrote this play in 7th grade, about a girl that killed herself. All of a sudden, I was in the school psychologist’s office every single day, they were so worried about me. My drama teacher just loved it and we wound up putting it on as this play. It was really interesting. That drama teacher, her actual name is Ms. Zorski [and] she was written into the show. 

The show did tease where the characters might end up. Did you always know have their futures in mind or did it evolve as it went on?

It was as the show went on. There wasn’t a firm endgame and you never know how many episodes you’re going to wind up doing. We wanted to give just a little optimistic glimpse of the future when we wound up realizing that that would be our last episode of the show. We wanted to end on that optimism and feel like Ginger and Darren belong together, and all the other funny things you get to see. We weren’t working toward that. In our minds, we were always hopeful that we could keep telling those stories and keep everything loose.

Would you be open to As Told By Ginger coming back?

At one point, when everyone was talking about all the revivals and somebody wrote something about the show getting redone, I was talking to my agent about it. I think it would be fun to do a spin on it. I was saying, “Would it be fun to do a live-action TV movie of it?” Or something. Just pick a different life than it already had. I do think it was so great. I love what the show was and I wouldn’t want to dismantle it too much. [I’m] always open to doing new stuff and introducing it to a new generation because we had a ton of fun making it.