Kevin Williamson's Dawson's Creek helped make the WB into a buzzworthy network. Now, can The Vampire Diaries do the same for The CW? Williamson and writing partner Julie Plec will be bringing that other vampire book series to the small screen on the show's premiere tonight, and at the TCA press tour, he talked to me about what it's like to launch a new vampire show in a post-Twilight world.
Here's the question I'm sure everyone is asking: Why vampires? Why are they so big now?
It's all cyclical. I remember when I was growing up we had those Lost Boys, and then there were a few shows after that. . . . I'm sure there's some psychological ramification to the psyche of America and culture at the moment and politics and the state of the world. I'm sure we could go analyze it till the cows come home. But I think they're cool, they're fun, they're sexy, and they took off. Julie's the one who coined the phrase "They're the new James Dean," and she's got a point. They're the new version of a bad boy, and for a whole new generation.
With so many other vampires out there, what will make this show stand out?
I read the first book and was like, "This is Twilight. This is just like Twilight." . . . I was like, "No way." And then Julie was three books ahead of me and she was going, "Keep reading. Keep reading." And then I kept reading and was like, "Oh, OK, I get it." This is a different show. This is a story about a town. This is a story about a family. . . . The premise is the same but the themes are different. It goes beyond just a love story and really goes into everything that goes bump in the night. It's more sort of a Dark Shadows. This town has a lot going on in it, and we just start with the vampires.
Is it easier or harder to be the new vampire show right now?
It's really tough. We were just saying there's a hundred reasons that are working against us. And one of them is my favorite show, True Blood. . . . Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? I personally have room for one more vampire show in my lineup. It's a coming of age story, it's a drama show, I get to have a little fun with the humor of it, I'm trying to put our characters in the real world. They're in the world of it — these are high school girls who actually read Twilight. We just wrote the scene where one of the girls finds out Ian Somerhalder's a vampire, and her first comment is, "Why don't you sparkle?"
To hear about how Williamson cast the roles and how much of the books will turn up on TV, just
You don't have a big main cast at the start — it's really just Elena and the two brothers. So I imagine casting was really key.
It was so hard to cast these roles. We had to play with the ages and stuff. We're getting away with it with the two vampires, cause they're 145 years old. So OK, they don't look 16? But Nina [Dobrev, who plays Elena] — Nina came in for us one day to audition. She was sick, she had the flu, worst audition ever. We didn't even look at her a second time. And she went home, went back to Canada, and she was just miserable. She's like, "I was sick, I was just awful, I can do better than that." So she put herself on videotape and she sent that tape through and we put it in and we were like, "Who's that?" "Oh, she came in and auditioned." "No, she didn't." "Oh, the sick girl?" She was a totally different girl, totally. And so we took it to Warner Bros., to Peter Roth, and we said, "Look, we have all these actresses out in the hallway, or you can watch this." I had such luck with that with Katie Holmes back in the day, with videotapes, and so I said, "Let's see if we can get lucky again."
Have you given your vampires a distinctive look?
They're hot and sexy. We're not doing the pale thing. They look like they look. Paul Wesley comes with that olive skin, so he kind of has that vampire look anyway. Since the pilot he's been getting into vampire mode, which means he's been just working out. He looks great. And Ian is just a rock. They look really, really good. What we're doing differently is when they turn into a vampire . . . we're going with the philosophy that once they get engorged the blood starts racing to their body. They're angry — any sort of hot emotion, anger, love, sex, anything that's really heightened — and so the blood rushes to the eyes. You see the blood rush into the eyes, and then the teeth come out.
It seems like a pro and a con that the books come with a built-in fan base that's very passionate about the work. How are you dealing with that?
We've had to make some hard choices, and we've made some changes. But what I loved so much about what LJ Smith did was she created a world and a mythology that is a writer's dream. That is the hardest thing to do, is come up with the backstory. She's laying that there for me — she's there as a mine that I can just go to every week. We're going to keep the essence of her books, the themes of her books about friendship and betrayal and deception and redemption. All of those themes that were so prevalent in the first three or four books will 100 percent be on there. And yes, some of the plots will change and the Founder's Day ball may not happen exactly where it did [in the books], it may happen in episode three, you know, and the Halloween episode may be sixth and in the book it was reversed. We're plotting it out for longevity and we're plotting out all of the character arcs. If your character doesn't resemble the one that it did in the book, maybe we backed it up and started it somewhere else so maybe they can grow into that character, because we're a series and we have to tell a story every week.