Out executive producer Joni Lefkowitz on ABC Family’s new series “Chasing Life”

Out executive producer Joni Lefkowitz and her best friend/writing partner Susanna Fogel are best known for their comical quips (like in their new feature film Life Partners), which is why it might seem a little strange that their new ABC Family show is about cancer. But just because Chasing Life follows 24-year-old April (Italia Ricci) as she deals with a critical health diagnosis, among many other things, doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of lighthearted comic relief, sarcasm and overall enjoyability — which means Joni and Susanna have done their jobs well.

“Our favorite thing to do is bring comedy to drama, which we just haven’t had the opportunity to do before but we thought this would be great,” Joni said.

Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz
"Life Partners" Premiere After Party - 2014 Tribeca Film Festival
Chasing Life, which premieres tonight after Pretty Little Liars, is loosely based on a Mexican telenovela called Terminales. Joni and Susanna decided to take on the adaptation and keep a few key ideas from the original, but largely made it their own.

“I don’t think anybody would want to watch a cancer show about somebody who’s just wallowing in their sadness about it the entire time,” Joni said. “And god forbid if that happened to either of us, Susanna and I would deal with it with humor. That’s our reality. If something tragic happened to us, we’d find the funny in it because it’s the only way you can get through it.”

A delicate balance is struck, though, with April having to continue on with life, which is a pretty good one, despite inevitable complications. She’s climbing the ladder at work as a reporter for a Boston-based newspaper, a cute co-worker who asks her on a date and a loving mom, sister and grandma she lives with.

REBECCA SCHULL, ITALIA RICCI, MARY PAGE KELLER, HALEY RAMM

“To create the feeling and tone of it not being a cancer show only was a vital thing for us to do,” Joni said. “Everything might be informed by what April’s going through. That’s sort of the litmus test of a story we’d put in an episode is if April’s cancer could sort of speak to [the idea] — we women call it ‘the cancer lens’ — something about knowing you have a limited amount of time here sort of colors whatever you’re dealing with in another way because you don’t have a lot of time to deal with it and it’s a unique thing to have someone whose 24. When I was 24, I was just thinking ‘In the future, I’m going to have this, I’m going to have that.’ If there was the possibility of not having a lot of time left at 24, I think a lot of that would change. When you’re around somebody who is dealing with that, you can’t help but be affected by it, too.”

One of the people in April’s life who will be affected strongly is her younger sister, Brenna, played by Haley Ramm.

“She’s like a little baby Evan Rachel Wood,” Joni said of Haley. “Since [Brenna and April's] father died, [Brenna] has been a typical rebellious teenager. She’s not interested in sports and things she used to be interested in and kind of checked out. And April getting sick will sort of snap her into realizing she needs to get her shit together and in the meantime she’ll be finding herself.”

HALEY RAMM

There is a queer storyline in the show’s future episodes, and with Joni at the helm and ABC Family’s track record for great lesbian and bisexual characters, Chasing Life is definitely worth watching. Overall, the message of living one’s own life in the truest way possible is one everyone can relate to.

“When we were approached with the idea, one of our other executive producers Aaron Kaplan, would say ‘You don’t really know how you’re going to live until you know you’re going to die,’” Joni said. “I find that really inspiring because there is a really depressing way to look at the fact you might be on your last days, years — whatever it is. I do think there’s something inspiring about knowing you have limited time on this earth — how would you choose to live it? I think it’s especially important for young people to know why it’s great to think about your future and what you’ll do 10 years from now, it’s also important to live in the now and live every day like it’s your last. You never know.”

Chasing Life premieres tonight on ABC Family.

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