Interview: MTV’s ‘Daria’ Co-Creator Susie Lewis on Its Legacy | Ash Lemonade
If you go on Susie Lewis’ Instagram page, you’ll see the snapshots of Daria appreciation peppered in fans in cosplay, Saturday Night Live’s Game of Thrones “Arya” spoof, and the appreciation of fandom she helped to create with Glenn Eichler.
Daria premiered on MTV March 3, 1997, and ended January 21, 2002, after five seasons. A spin-off of Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead series — where she appeared as a recurring character who was taunted by the moronic duo — the deeply sarcastic teenager won over legions of fans and has become a feminist icon.
In a 1997 article from The New York Times, writer John J. O’Connor referenced Daria as a “flower that can blossom in the most unlikely places,” saying, “As far as MTV and ‘Beavis and Butthead’ are concerned, ‘Daria’ is an indispensable blast of fresh air. I think I’m in love.”
In the following month, another NYT writer Andrea Higbie continued to sing the show’s praises.
Twenty-three years later, Lewis, an Emmy-Award winning producer bears witness to Daria and her impact on pop culture, and more importantly loyal and new generations of fans celebrating prove she continues to stand the test of time.
Even in college, I bonded with my friend as we’d binge-watch the Daria DVD in my dorm room over Joe’s Crab Shack takeout and wine coolers we’d sneak in. Years later she’d get “Sick Sad World” tattooed on her arm, something Lewis marveled over.
“First, your friend rules! Second, it never gets old hearing stories about how Daria has affected someone’s life, positively,” Lewis said.
She recalled a trip to Mexico for PixeIatl where she had the chance to meet die-hard fans and hear their stories of how the show has impacted them. “I never get tired of hearing this. Tattoos are fascinating to me. I get a lot of pictures of these sent to me via Instagram and am always up for a repost.”
Watch Season 1, Episode 1: “Esteemers”
Lewis chats with ASH LEMONADE about the show’s legacy, her favorite episodes, the ‘Jodie’ spinoff, and more!
Ash Lemonade: It was announced that Jodie will have her own spin-off with Tracee Ellis Ross executive producing and voicing her. What are your thoughts on Jodie having her moment and what inspired her inception on the original show and to have her as one of the few characters of color in Lawndale? For me, as a black girl growing up, it was great to see her on my TV screen. [Editor’s note: As of June 2020, Comedy Central announced that it has picked up the Jodie series].
Susie Lewis: I have no idea what is going on with the decision making process at MTV. I was not included in this decision or any part of any development of any kind of Daria spin-off, which frankly, makes me sad, shocked, and appalled all at the same time. BUT, I wish them oodles of success! Regarding her inspiration for Daria — she really was inspired by the era and some of the staff’s general experiences growing up.
In my own experience, we had one African American student in our high school, where there were 600 kids in our graduating class! I always wondered what that must have been like for that student and thought it must have caused a lot of stress or pressure when all anyone wants to do is fit in, in high school. We did make an effort to tap into what most people (everyone), felt like in high school, from different perspectives, which really were very similar, universal feelings, that are still felt today.
Ash Lemonade: What are your favorite episodes and why? Mine is “Mart of Madness” and “Cafe Disaffecto.”
Lewis: “Daria: The Musical,” “Road Worrier,” and “Misery Chick.” I love musicals and we had the most fun watching that idea come to life. “Misery Chick” had so many important messages about being misunderstood. Glenn Eichler wrote that episode and after I read it, I thought, “Wow, this is me! This is how I feel all the time! Someone could actually explain it and also knew about it!” Before I read that script, I thought this was probably my own personal torture.
I knew there would be others that felt just as heard watching this show after that script was written. “Road Worrier” is a fav because of the music festival aspect and the special moments Daria shares with Trent on the road. We really get inside her head in that episode and see how much confidence she lacks and how much pressure she puts on herself. I believe we all do this to ourselves.
Ash Lemonade: Daria initially starred on Beavis & Butthead. What would you say she has brought to TV that was needed at that time? Do you see her influence today in the complexity of female characters?
Lewis: At the time, there seemed to be several characters similar to Daria. My So-Called Life had the perfect tone in my opinion and told stories that felt the truest to life in high school, at the time with regards to what we were seeing represented on any other shows about high school. We wanted Daria’s tone and theme to be as close to that level as possible. Also, Darlene from Roseanne was so likable as a sarcastic, take no bull teenager and we loved that about her character as well. We always felt Daria would be similar to Darlene.
Regarding her influence today — it’s funny. I kind of thought after Daria’s success, we would see more animation with female leads and more females behind the scenes but that never really seemed to happen. I believe it has been pretty recent that some of those series are just now popping up, but I have yet to see anything similar. Although I do admit — it’s hard to watch EVERYTHING. And I do watch a lot of TV, Netflix, HBO, etc.
Ash Lemonade: Who’s your favorite character and which character do you feel is underrated? Mine is Jane and my underrated is Mr. DeMartino. [Laughs]
Lewis: Oh, they are all my favorite in so many ways. I connected most with Jane. But Quinn has so many fun lines and thoughts that come from my own brain as well, so of course, I think she’s wonderful. Helen was hilarious — and this may have to do more with the voice actress, Wendy Hoopes, creating such a unique sounding voice for her — in fact, Wendy did all three of these voices for these three characters I mentioned. She (Wendy) put such passion and creativity into her delivery and it made me love the characters even more.
Ash Lemonade: There have been rumors for years of a possible reboot. Is that happening?
Lewis: I would love all of this and have written several versions of how the show would look today, actually, but I have a similar answer as I did for Jodie’s spin-off. I have no idea what the executives at MTV are thinking. They are not including any of the show creators in their decisions regarding this show, which seems highly absurd and unusual.
Ash Lemonade: You’re an Emmy Award-winning entertainment executive. What are your thoughts on the landscape of the industry and the place women hold on the screen and behind the scenes?
Lewis: We still have a long way to go. The aim for women supporting other women in this industry is a positive sentiment, but in my experience, it doesn’t happen as often as it should. I have always enjoyed working with women and I think this was ingrained in me while growing up. I always sided with females, wanted to hang out with them more, and considered them the more evolved species. Mentoring younger women is a joyful responsibility.
My Daria staff included so much young, talented female energy in key roles — Supervising Director, Art Director, Storyboard Coordinator, Production Manager, Associate Producers, myself, and so many voice actors. We were, no doubt ahead of our time. I wonder how and why there is only motivation just recently about this very topic. It just made me realize, we didn’t really progress much from 20 years ago when we were already accomplishing this with largely female staff and cast and we were proving that it was working! I didn’t know how uncommon this was at the time. Still, I will continue to support the cause in any way that I can.