[03/23/08 - 12:56 AM]
Live at the Paley Festival: The CW's "Gossip Girl"
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

7:00 p.m.: Tonight's sample of the Paley archives comes from the appropriately titled "Guns and Gossip" episode of ABC's seminal teen drama "My So-Called Life."

7:06 p.m.: Barbara Dixon once again welcomes us to tonight's panel and introduces our moderator Tim Stack from Entertainment Weekly. He jokes that people tell him he has the pop culture taste of a 16-year-old girl so it's not surprising he lives and breathes "Gossip Girl."

7:10 p.m.: Tim in turn brings out executive producers Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz who've brought a clip package from the show with them. Josh then muses if there's anyone here who isn't a publicist for one of the "Gossip Girl" cast members.

7:29 p.m.: And we're back in record time to bring out tonight's panel, our largest at this year's festival to date - Amy Kaufman (producer!) Jessica Szohr (Vanessa)! Taylor Momsen (Jenny)! Matthew Settle (Rufus)! Kelly Rutherford (Lily)! Bob Levy (executive producer)! Ed Westwick (Chuck, who I should note is wearing a very Chuck-esque plaid jacket)! Chace Crawford (Nate)! Penn Badgley (Dan)! Leighton Meester (Blair)! Blake Lively (Serena)! Cecily Von Ziegesar (author)! And of course, Stephanie and Josh.

7:36 p.m.: Cecily on the creation of the book series: "I was working as an editor [at Alloy Entertainment] and was sort of brainstorming at a meeting about a new series, the idea for 'Gossip Girl' came up. But it was really just sort of the framework of, 'Let's create a series about a girl who gossips about her friends online.' And then it was given to me as an assignment, like someone go do something with that. So I sat down at my desk and I thought the people I knew who went to high school lived in Manhattan and so I decided to set the books there and then I kind of based the characters on myself, kind of, and my friends, kind of - it's definitely fiction, and really it just sort of blossomed and [I] starting writing it and writing it. But I was just supposed to be developing a series for somebody else to write. Then when we sent it out to a bunch of publishing companies, somebody liked it and they said, 'Well who wrote this thing, this proposal for this new series?' And I [shyly said], 'I kind of, I did, sorry.' And they said, 'No, no, no, we want you to write the books.' And so that's how I started writing them and it took off from there. But they're fiction, they're fiction."

7:38 p.m.: Josh on how he got involved: "I got sent the books and was already sort of developing 'Chuck' but I knew of the books and knew that they were a teen phenomenon, a publishing phenomenon. And so read the first book and I was like, 'This is a really cool world for a series.' And I called Stephanie, I was like, 'I think you should read this and if you're into it, I think we should do it.' Because I really wanted to continue working with Stephanie as well. I knew that she would completely get it... and bring it to the screen." Stephanie continues, "We had some trepidation about doing another teen show after coming off of 'The OC' but we just felt like the characters and the world was so compelling."

7:40 p.m.: Josh reveals Leighton was blonde at the time of her audition. "The network, which has been amazingly supportive of the show, [said], 'She's great, but she's blonde.' And we're like, 'She can also be brunette!'" Leighton adds, "I had tried to show up in wig once, but they're like, 'No, no, no, no! It doesn't work, can you actually do it?' And I was like, 'I didn't get [the role] yet, but I guess...'" Stephanie jumps in, "If you ask a young actress who's in the middle of pilot season to dye her hair brown you better be pretty damn sure about her for the role."

7:41 p.m.: "My wife watches the show incessantly, the network, The CW." Matthew shares about his casting, adding her favorite was "Gilmore Girls." "So when I got the pilot, I read it thinking it might be something with that quality in it, that caliber, and it sure was."

7:42 p.m.: Josh on Blake's casting: "On all the sort of web sites for 'Gossip Girl' they talked about making it into a series. Everybody said, 'Well, if they ever make it into a series Serena has to be played by Blake Lively.' That was like on all the websites. So it's like, we should probably meet this person." Blake adds, "[Working on a TV series] was the last thing in the world I wanted to do... and then I sat down and met with Josh and Stephanie. It's a big commitment, signing away six years of your life for one character, one cast, one job. But they were just so passionate about everything - from the sets to the actors to the wardrobe to every storyline... You hear about people who just sign their name off on a project, they just stamp it and that's it, they're not involved. But to meet people who were executive producers and creators [that] were so involved and excited to be doing what they're doing, it excited me and made me really want to be a part of it."

7:43 p.m.: "She made us promise that in no season would her character ever be locked in a cage," Josh further adds, referring to the laundry list of oddball situations Blake's sister Robyn faced on the WB's "Savannah." Blake also said no to Chuck ever getting his pet monkey from the books.

7:44 p.m.: Ed shares he was originally up for Chace's role. "What?!" jokes Josh who later adds they had him test both with his accent and without.

7:46 p.m.: Penn on how he got involved: "I had done three other WB series and I was like, 'Now it's the CW? Oh, God! Can I go back there?' And of course I did... I had a previous relationship with them, mostly Stephanie from 'The Mountain' which none of you know."

7:48 p.m.: Tim asks Josh about how the series diverges from the books. "In the books, the Humphreys live on the Upper West Side versus the Upper East Side and we thought, 'Well, that might be hard for an audience to sort of wrap their head around the difference who's not from New York.' So we moved them to Brooklyn so it felt a little more dramatic." Other changes from the books: the adults weren't as prevalent and Serena's brother is actually older.

7:50 p.m.: Bob on Josh and Stephanie: "What a lot of people don't know is we had sold 'Gossip Girl' twice before. It was once in development as a movie at Warner Bros. And it was actually developed as a one-hour pilot for FOX several years before it found its way into Josh and Stephanie's hands. And nobody kind of figured it out before which is why we hadn't had success the first few times. And if I can just sort of throw in two cents, one of the amazing things that Josh and Stephanie figured out to translate it from a very successful book series that didn't really lay itself out as a TV show and turn it into a successful TV show was they gave Serena, who in the books is sort of like this effortlessly perfect girl who everything just falls into her lap and life is too easy for her, they gave her a drive in the pilot. Serena says, 'I want to do better. I want to be a better person.' And that's really the drive of the whole series is this girl who's done bad things, this beautiful girl, this rich girl who would be very easy not to like. But Josh and Stephanie gave her a drive that we all could believe in and all root for."

7:52 p.m.: Josh on the network's response to the show's adult content: "They were actually pretty fine with it. It was when we went to the first TCA that the critics were like, 'This is going to destroy Western civilization!' Someone stood up in the middle of it and yelled, 'It's all so depraved!' But we felt, we're not out just to kind of put sex and drugs in something just for the sake of doing it."

7:54 p.m.: Matthew on if his character should get together with Kelly's: "It's 2008, I think they should have a double date with their kids," he quips.

7:56 p.m.: Jessica shares the only reason she got cast is she happened to meet Josh at a barbeque at his house via mutual friends. "We were trying to cast Vanessa," Josh reveals. "We couldn't find anyone. We were trying to cast her out of New York and you came with some friends of mine... and opened the door. I was like, 'It's Vanessa!'"

7:58 p.m.: Tim asks where the idea for Ed's trademark scarves came from. After the heavily accented Ed responds, Josh quips: "I understood the word scarf."

7:59 p.m.: Tim queries about Kati and Isabel, two of the show's peripheral characters. "Kati went, in real life, went back to college without telling anybody," Josh shares. "We were getting ready, the strike was over, it's like, 'Let's get Kati ready for wardrobe.' They're like, 'Kati's in class at Brown.'"

8:00 p.m.: Chance on his character's broodiness: "Yeah, he's conflicted. But I think he's going to have opportunities to come out of his shell more." Tim presses if Taylor's character will be involved in said coming out, which freaks out Penn. "It's not happening, it's not happening, it's not happening," he repeats alluding to the fact she's 14-years-old in real life. Chance insists it's a very brother-sister type relationship. "But I don't think she sees you as an older brother," Tim jokes. "He seems more like an older brother who's not related to her who she wants to date."

8:04 p.m.: Leighton on if she likes playing Blair more as a bitchy villain or a vulnerable character: "I like a little of both. I think she kind of lost her footing a little bit because she let all these things kind of get the best of her in the beginning of the series. And now she's been dethroned by somebody whom she deemed beneath her so she kind of got a dose of reality... It's really fun and I would like to say a challenge to be bitchy but not so much." Tim asks how she felt after learning Blair would get involved with Chuck. "They're perfect for each other. He understands her like nobody else does." Ed adds, "Two thumbs up!"

8:06 p.m.: Blake on her character's troubles: "I think she's never really had a proper role model." This prompts a swift "Excuse me?" from Kelly.

8:08 p.m.: Penn's take on if Dan and Serena's relationship is meant to be: "I think as an actor we always view roles as like any change is welcome, you know?" Josh quips, "Was that a note?" Penn continues, "I think, it's hard to say... I mean I think I saw that when their characters were introduced but now, you know, um... there are other routes being taken by all characters. It's hard to say. I think in the books that was the case and therefore everyone's wondering is that going to happen but it doesn't seem like that's as likely." Blake chimes in, "I think this is a cryptic way of saying watch the next five episodes."

8:10 p.m.: Tim asks Cecily if she's happy with how they've translated her books to the small screen. "I'm just overwhelming happy," she shares. "No offense to anyone, [but] my expectations were so low." She also admits after hearing "The OC" people would be involved, "I was like, 'Oh God, it's going to be on the beach! And Nate's going to be like a lifeguard! Serena's gonna be a beach volleyball player! And Blair's gonna be like a teen mom by day and a stripper by night.' Then I met with Stephanie and it sounded like she'd kind of read the first book and wanted to like, you know, make it like the first book and she said that and I believed her... And then I read the script and I was like, I kind of had goosebumps [over] the script to the pilot because it's so close to the story of the first book."

8:12 p.m.: As for what she'd like to see incorporated: "Jessica has to shave her head," she jokes. "You [points to Chuck] have to get a monkey. Serena's mother gives him the monkey... [and he] becomes gayer and gayer and gayer." Josh adds, "Wait, the monkey turns him gay?" Cecily also notes the prequel book goes into how Jenny gets her boobs. "She takes like breast enhancing vitamins, which, they don't actually work. She just blossoms. I mean you [to Taylor] haven't gone through puberty yet."

8:14 p.m.: Tim asks if we'll see any more gay characters. "Dan is a poet in the books," Cecily says. "He goes to like this poetry gathering and kisses a guy but then, afterward he's like, 'Oh God!'" Josh jokes, "The question we get more than [that is], 'Where are the Jews?'" Everyone chimes in that they just need a gay, Jewish monkey.

8:15 p.m.: Kelly says she hopes to see Serena and Eric's father turn up on the show. "It'll be Jack Wagner I'm sure," she jests.

8:16 p.m.: Blake confesses she's obsessed with Guitar Hero ("I'm actually amazing at medium [difficulty]," she notes) and enters various competitions in Brooklyn. She was also horrified to learn she originally was supposed to lose to Jessica in the show. Even worse, she accidentally stabbed one of her fingers while cutting flowers the night before the scene was filmed. Also speaking of guitars, Matthew says you'll likely see his character perform on the show. "We're gonna take some lessons this year," he says. "We started last year [but] it got swept under the rug somewhere." He notes that Penn is actually a solid guitarist. "I'm not really impressive," he admits. "I'm probably medium."

8:20 p.m.: Tim prods Josh if there's some reason - from his childhood or elsewhere - why all the parties on his shows end in fist-to-cuffs or tears. "I was never at one," he jokes. "I was at home with my monkey."

8:21 p.m.: Josh on the show's ratings struggles: "We really wanted to be on the ground floor of a new network. That was exciting for us, an exciting opportunity, so I feel as the CW grows so grows 'Gossip Girl.' But we don't worry about it. We feel like we have a good connection with the audience and the show is growing."

8:22 p.m.: Stephanie says the strike hasn't changed their plans for the rest of the season too much. "[Instead of] nine episodes to tell the story we have five. But I think it's great for the audience because [it's] just pure adrenaline storytelling from here to the end. There's nothing... there's no D stories." Josh teases what's to come: "Blair and Jenny are going to war. Serena and Chuck are siblings, and all the fun stuff that brings. We're bringing on a new character who's from the books for a couple episodes named Georgina Sparks, who's being played by Michelle Trachtenberg. Georgina is someone from Serena's past who, when Serena was being Bad Serena this was like pure id. So all you need to know is Blair fears Georgina. Things are going to get crazy." He also adds there's a wedding in the works, but it might not be between the obvious choices. "Wait so it might not be Lily and Bart's," Tim asks. "Okay, you got me," Josh admits.

8:24 p.m.: Tim asks if we'll ever learn who "Gossip Girl" is. "Veronica Mars," quips Penn. "She reached out to us," Stephanie says about Kristin Bell's involvement. "And as soon as we heard she wanted to do it we were just like, 'Done, that's it. No more questions.'" Josh later adds, "She [Kristin Bell's voice] is not who Gossip Girl is. Gossip Girl is more a state of being, a state of mind."

8:27 p.m.: Time for audience Q&A.

8:31 p.m.: Josh on balancing the adults' storylines and the kids': "Every year that goes by I get further from my high school experience. And suddenly you start to write the older characters [and you] can totally relate to Rufus - Jenny can't go out tonight! So those characters are there to provide, both are sort of a moral compass for the show. I think they're a real way in for adult audiences." Stephanie adds, "It feels very zeitgeisty, the sense of Generation X parent that has Generation Y kid but actually the parents and the kids are not that different from each other... That was something we didn't feel like was on TV. We felt like it was fun to explore."

8:33 p.m.: Someone asks about Ed's band. Like Josh, we can't really understand him.

8:34 p.m.: Josh says we'll see some more homages to classic films, particularly in the first episode back.

8:37 p.m.: A fan wonders if the ladies get to keep any of the clothes and/or accessories from the show. The short answer is no as many are originals on loan from the designer. Blake admits she has something of a shopping addiction and will daydream about some of the clothes she wears.

8:42 p.m.: Two very excited girls ask about the cast's dating status. Tim shuts this down quickly but not before Ed puts his arm around Chace while Blake says she's actually pregnant with Brad Pitt's baby.

8:44 p.m.: Josh on how they plan to manage the characters lives post-graduation: "The good news is New York is really more of the franchise for the show than high school is. So the kids can get through high school at a relatively realistic clip and I don't think the show sacrifices anything because there are so many options within New York to keep everybody on the same island." Stephanie adds, "I think we feel really good that New York is such a character in the show and school is minimized to a degree that we literally don't have a classroom as a set."

8:47 p.m.: And so ends tonight's panel! See you kids on Monday night!

  [march 2008]  


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