With the huge success of its teen mystery series "Pretty Little Liars," which was adapted from the popular book series by Sara Shepard, it's no big surprise that ABC Family is taking a similar route with its latest series, "The Lying Game," which is also based on another series penned by Shepard. In "The Lying Game," twin sisters Emma and Sutton (who were separated at birth and have secretly found each other on the internet) devise a plan where Emma takes over Sutton's life in hopes of finding their real birth parents. However, as is typical for Shepard's stories, things are not exactly what they seem and mystery and intrigue - with a not-so-little dose of teen issues thrown in - become a driving force in the narrative.
Our Jim Halterman rang up "The Lying Game" Executive Producer (and SVP of Alloy Entertainment's television division) Gina Girolamo to talk some of the differences between the books and the series, the resemblance to that other twin-centric series (The CW's upcoming "Ringer" with Sarah Michelle Gellar) and what actress Alexandra Chando had that other actresses didn't to land the lead role.
Jim Halterman: How did the project come to you? Was it due to the fact that 'Pretty Little Liars' did so well out of the gate for ABC Family?
Gina Girolamo: The next series of books that Sara has written for Alloy are these 'Lying Game' books and, because of the success of 'Pretty Little Liars,' ABC Family bought the title and agreed to adapt the book before it was written. Through Warner Horizon we found [Executive Producer] Chuck Pratt and met with him and he sort of pitched a version of the show that was slightly different from the book proposal. The book proposal and the book have our wealthy twin Sutton murdered and she narrates the story so the twins never meet. They connect and Emma comes to Arizona but they never meet. It's a six book series and the first two are currently on the New York Times Best Seller List. 'The Lying Game' is #7 and then the 2nd book 'Never Have I Ever' is #2. Very exciting.
JH: Why did you or Chuck feel that in the series the characters did need to meet when they didn't in the book and Sutton is not murdered, at least not in the pilot?
GG: That's a really good question. Two things we felt strongly about. A lot of the fun of the concept that ABC Family was interested in was 'The Prince and the Pauper' and it felt to us that it would be a challenge to go on this journey with Emma and watch her live the 'Life of Riley' while there's a dead girl out there that nobody knew was missing. It felt too tough to get over and it also felt irresponsible and it was just really hard to buy into the fantasy for Emma in this new, rich environment with these friends and the trappings of being a girl in a wealthy family knowing that her long-lost sister was killed. So we made that change right away. Then, we wanted the sisters to meet because of the story of these sisters and the mystery about why they were separated at birth and it's really an emotional story and it's Emma getting a chance at life that she never imagined for herself, forging a relationship with a family, friends and boyfriend and then also having a sister bond.
They have a shared mission and journey to track down their birth parents. All they want to know is who their birth parents are and why they were separated. And, not to rehash a subject from TCA, but a lot of people have written the comparison story between this and 'Ringer.' I think this is an emotional story. It's about the relationship of these two sisters and, in my opinion, 'Ringer' is a crime story, there is an FBI element, it's darker, it's more adult. This is very genuinely set in a teenager's life and, outside of the extreme circumstances of these twins, part of the show is about relationships and family and really relatable teen subjects. I think what Sara Sheppard does well in her books is that she wraps mystery with very relatable relationship drama and it makes it feel unique.
JH: How did casting go for the roles of Sutton and Emma? Was Alexandra Chando a challenge to find?
GG: I think it was a challenge and I think that the thing that Alexandra does so beautifully is she conveys the vulnerable side and then, on a dime, turn on the much more confident side with the Sutton part. When we were looking for girls, we saw many talented and beautiful young women and they had one side of the coin over the other. It was tough to find an actress who had both sides that were as believable as Alexandra. She emerged as our favorite in the middle of the process. We were thrilled to find her and then get the support of the studio and the network.
JH: Over the course of the first season, I know we're spending a lot of time of the set up with Sutton and Emma but will we get to spend time with the other characters?
GG: We're going to spend most of our time in Arizona with Emma as Sutton so her life will emerge as the majority of the show and through her relationships the other characters will become much more realized. Emma's relationship with Sutton's sister Laurel (Allie Gonino) will become a big part of the series. The interesting thing with Emma coming into this world is she doesn't always have the context so she sort of follows her heart and her warmth and her personality in pursuit of these relationships and it's a bit of a departure from Sutton's presence and attitude. The nice thing that evolves over the course of the series is that Sutton's (played by Emma) dynamic with all of the satellite characters - her best friend, parents, her sister Laurel, her secret boyfriend - it all starts to revolve because you have a girl who looks the same but is designed a little bit differently and comes at things a little bit differently. And then we'll learn more about Ethan (Blair Redford), the secret boyfriend and why he's a secret boyfriend and I think the love triangle really starts to emerge.
JH: With ABC Family shows, the adults initially seem like they're on the periphery of things but they get seem to get more involved over time. Will we get a sense of that in 'The Lying Game?'
GG: You're totally right. The parents will emerge as a part of the larger mystery. In episode 2, we will meet Madeline's dad, who is played by Adrian Pasdar, and he is a very complex character. He's a loving father and an upstanding member of society but he holds the key to a lot of the secrets. He grew up with Ted (Andy Buckley) and Kristen (Helen Slater), Sutton and Laurel's parents so the parent stuff really comes to life. They were a little in the background in the pilot because we had so much to set up with the sisters and the overall setup of the show but they will emerge as the keeper of secrets and not necessarily in a nefarious way but they know more than their leading us to believe. That's an interesting complication to the world and I think it's something that Sutton certainly suspected in her parents and this is why she went on this journey.
JH: Lots of juicy stuff!
GG: That's the beauty of having Chuck as our showrunner. He literally comes from the soap world ('General Hospital,' 'All My Children') and has spent many years in prime time soaps ('Melrose Place') so he knows how to plot these very complicated character dynamics and layer the suspicion and the betrayal and the power dynamic between the adults. It's going to get very juicy.
JH: What else is Alloy is up to? You seem to have found your niche with ABC Family but you're also all over the place!
GG: We now have three series on ABC Family and three series on the CW, our third being 'The Secret Circle,' which is going to premiere in September. We have a comedy series that we sold to Nickelodeon. It's a 20-episode order for a multi-camera show called 'How to Rock' and it's based on an upcoming Alloy book entitled 'How to Rock Braces and Glasses.' The book is coming out in October and the series will probably premiere in January or February of 2012. One other thing we have cooked up for TV is an original movie at Disney Channel based on our book, 'Frenemies.' We shot it in the spring and are waiting for a premiere date. We're also in the midst of putting together our development slate for our next round with the broadcast networks and ABC Family and cable. Our hope is to set up some projects at some of the bigger networks. We love our partners at ABC Family and the CW but we're trying to diversify a little bit.
"The Lying Game" premieres tonight on ABC Family at 9:00/8:00c.