The ABC Family series "10 Things I Hate About You" had a lot potentially going for it and against it when it premiered last summer. While adapting a popular film (which starred Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger) aimed at the young moviegoer might bring a built-in audience to the show, fans can just as quickly turn on a project if it is too far removed (or too closely adapted) from what made the film so beloved. Thankfully for all involved in the new series, "10 Things" broke an ABC Family record for highest 30-minute series debut in its history and the Disney-owned cabler immediately ordered 10 more episodes that began airing last Monday. Creator Carter Covington rang up our Jim Halterman last week to talk about this latest crop of episodes including how he adapted the series, created the solid cast (including Lindsey Shaw, Meaghan Jette Martin and Larry Miller) and how social networking is very important in how he navigates the storytelling on the series.
Jim Halterman: You had worked on 'Greek' before '10 Things' came along. How did you leap from one ABC Family show to the other?
Carter Covington: I was working on 'Greek,' which is a show very close to my heart. I'd been on there for about a year and a half. My husband is the creator of 'Greek,' Patrick Sean Smith, and we were getting to the point where it was starting to feel like we were co-workers more than partners and ABC Family had had the idea of turning '10 Things' the movie into a television show. It's a Disney-owned film and when it airs on the network it does very well and there are a lot of marketing reasons behind it, too. Gil Junger, who directed the movie, had signed on to direct the pilot and Gil and I had worked together on 'Greek' and we have a really great working relationship.
JH: Any trepidation about developing such a popular movie into a series?
CC: I was really nervous. I love the movie and I think a lot of people loved the movie. I know there can be a lot of backlash when you try to turn a hit movie into a television show but I'd always wanted to do a show about siblings. I think the sibling dynamic is incredibly ripe for comedy. So I was intrigued by this idea of sisters who had two very different views of high school and they also remind you of the different views you had of high school. On the one hand, I was always like 'High school is so stupid' and then on the other hand I was like 'I wish I was more popular and I could date the quarterback and the football team!' I very quickly got behind it and said 'I have a take on this' and I pitched it to ABC Family and they were like, 'That sounds really wonderful!'
JH: How did you settle on the tone of the show? '10 Things' definitely has a more comedic tone than some of the more melodramatic shows on ABC Family.
CC: The tone of the show has really evolved. In the first 10 episodes, it was around episode six and seven that we started to say 'Oh my God, this is what really works for our show!' and I was working with Robin Schiff, who is running the show with me now, and she and I have this mind-meld where we really like to make fun of the teen cliches that you see in teen movies. I think once we sort of locked in on that and really found that the show really came alive for us. I always wanted it to be a show about high school that anyone can relate to and I wanted the characters to be wacky enough to be funny but relatable enough to be endearing. We really try to walk that line and have a show that is both funny but about something. In these 10 episodes I feel like every episode gets better and better and when people get to the finale, if they're not addicted then I will be really shocked.
JH: Do you ever go back to the original source material, Shakespeare's 'Taming of the Shrew?' Or do you just stick to the origins found in the film?
CC: The main way we talk about Shakespeare in the room is that in 'Taming of the Shrew' and a lot of his works he always had the blissful couple and then the more combative anti-couple so that's how we look at Kat/Patrick vs. Bianca/Joey. One is about the blissful, nauseating love and the other is about these two people in this 'Pygmalion'/'Taming of the Shrew' thing. I like to call it an anti-romance about these two people who frustratingly like each other. We talk about it a lot in those terms but I feel like there's a danger in getting too close. We'll often try to kick off our discussions in the room and say "Let's think in Shakespearean terms and see how this story would play out" but we try not to be too literal with it.
JH: How did you go about casting the series when Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger are so remembered for their roles in the film? Larry Miller is the only holdover from the film's cast.
CC: I was really nervous about it because these actors had to live up to the movie. Larry Miller was the last one we cast because I was worried about bringing him on board the show because I was worried that it would draw comparisons to the movie versus a clean slate but it wasn't until literally about five days before we were about to start shooting and I had read every actor in town in the age range for Walter's part and nobody could encapsulate that strict but loving tone that Larry had. Gil was like 'I think we should call Larry.' Overall, we took a little over two months to cast, which is a long time for a pilot. We were lucky because we weren't in the middle of casting season so we were able to do it without that musical chairs freneticism that networks have.
We just took it really slow, did a lot of reads and Lindsay [Shaw] was the first one we'd hired. She came in and I immediately thought 'OK, we have a television show!' I think the challenge with Kat is that she's such a strong character and she's always on her soapbox but with the wrong actress you'd want to just change the channel. Lindsay really has an ability to be on her side when she is being annoying. It's a gift to write for her because we're able to put a lot of subtext into the scene, which just makes her character deeper and makes the show operate on a whole other level. All the kids... I call them kids but they're all late teens, early 20s but to me they're kids... but they really just want to be better. That is really a wonderful thing for a creator to have with his cast. It's a huge reason why the show is successful.
JH: When a show comes out of the gate strong, does it add more pressure or is there less because you've proven yourself?
CC: I feel kind of like I'm sending my child off to school. The child has done really well in pre-school but now they're going off to kindergarten. I see such potential and excitement in the show and I'm so excited creatively about where we can take it. I'm worried that we'll get lost. We're a little show and we're going to be all by ourselves on Monday nights on ABC Family and I'm worried that we'll get lost in the chaos of Spring. I'm personally very nervous about whether our fans will find us and whether or not we've generated more fans since we stopped airing in September. I feel like a nervous parent sending their kid off to public school. Please don't let my kid get beat up! Please let everyone see how wonderful my kid is!
JH: With all the social networking going on, is that something that you're utilizing?
CC: We have 270,000 fans on Facebook, which is mind-blowing to me. I posted the top 10 things you're going to see on these 10 episodes of '10 Things' and I gave some opaque spoilers that will get people excited. I've been twittering behind-the-scene photos. I read the ABC Family's message boards, I read Facebook, I read FutonCritic. I try to get out there and read what people are saying about the show because I think reading it has given me a very good sense of what is working on the show, what isn't and what people would like to see. That's very valuable feedback. I used to be in advertising in my 20s as an ad exec so I consider reading these online things as a focus group. It's just a really good barometer. At the end of the day if your fans aren't happy then you're not doing something right.
"10 Things I Hate About You" airs every Monday on ABC Family at 8:00/7:00c.