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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

FFFJ: Gossip Girl

It has been quite a while since my last FFFJ post, so I should probably start by reviewing the concept for those who may be new to the blog. The idea is, over the years I have been given many properties to cover for various production companies, agencies, etc. Many of those have gone on to be produced, either for the companies I read them for, or for others. I keep all my coverage reports on my computer (hence the name, From the Files of Fun Joel, or FFFJ), so I thought it might be worthwhile and interesting to highlight the comments I gave these scripts, and to discuss the types of strengths and weaknesses that were evident. Also, sometimes I would talk about unproduced scripts from which we could learn, or which I felt should be produced.

Over time, for some reason, I stopped exclusively calling these FFFJ posts, and for the produced projects I started calling them simply "Screenplay Reviews," but they really are the same thing. If you have any interest, here are a list of the past FFFJ posts:

Mondo Beyondo
Prison Song
The Watch
Venus Kincaid
Code Name: The Cleaner

And Screenplay Reviews:

The Island
Pretty Persuasion
The Constant Gardener
Aeon Flux
The Hills Have Eyes (remake)

Okay, now that being said, why am I reinaugurating this feature now? Firstly, because I really like it, I know some others do too, and it has been too long since I've done one of these posts. But also because I now have the unique (for me) opportunity to do an FFFJ post on a TV program.

I rarely read any TV material. I think I've probably read less than 5 specs, professionally. This is due to the combined facts that I work for film production companies, not TV networks, and that I don't really know TV. I rarely watch much TV, and the proof I always give about how little I understand TV (since I don't watch it much) is that I was convinced that CSI would bomb. Yeah. How many years and spinoffs later now are we? So anyway...

That being said, I did receive a TV series proposal to read a number of years back, when I was working as a reader at a major agency in NYC. Interestingly, this was just that -- a proposal. No pilot script, no real episode breakdown (that I can recall). Really just a very brief outline of characters, concept, and maybe the pilot episode's outline. 8 pages in total (which I liked, because I still got paid the full script price for reading and covering it).

And yet, all this time later, the show (Gossip Girl) is finally about to air, beginning tomorrow night on The CW network. (By the way, does anyone know what that network's name stands for, if anything? I know it was a combo of The WB and UPN, but what does it mean?)

Now, I should start by saying that in the intervening years, the concept became a series of (apparently) popular books aimed at teen girls. But I read this proposal in November of 2000, and the first book came out in 2002, at least according to Wikipedia. I have no idea if the book series was already in the works when I got the proposal.

Regardless, my comments were essentially that the concept had promise but it was too difficult to make a determination based on such a small proposal. But on to the coverage!

Spoiler Alert (but I think this has all been covered in the book series already)

When I covered this on 11/8/00, I was not supplied the writer's name. This happens sometimes for any number of reasons, by the way. But I just wanted to mention it, since I usually credit the writer of a script.

I summarized the series concept as:

A perfect-in-nearly-every-way, rich, New York teen returns to her local prep school, after being expelled from an upper crust boarding school, and tries to regain her former glory.
Since the books have already come out (and it might be interesting to see how things changed, or didn't, from this initial concept), here is my brief 3-paragraph Summary (I also did a longer Synopsis, but this should do fine for now):

SERENA VAN DER WOODSEN, a near-perfect, rich girl from New York City’s Upper East Side, returns to The Spence School (all girls) in her Junior year. She had previously been away at Taft, a boarding school, but got expelled, though no one knows exactly why. Rumors swirl, but the bottom line is that she’s coming home, regardless of why. Though she had been famously popular before she left for Taft, when she returns she is faced with subtle resentment from the other girls. It isn't outright hostility – after all, she is still Serena van der Woodsen. However, her popularity has been knocked down a very noticeable notch.

Serena decides to increase her extracurricular activities, at first looking into the theater. She assumes that it can’t be that difficult, and also thinks it will be a great way to meet boys. But when she can’t secure a leading role, she looks to an alternative drama production – an avant garde theater piece being put on by VANESSA WIENER, a strange, punkish girl. Vanessa dreams of getting DANIEL HUMPHREY, a dark and quiet West Side boy, to star in her show. She’s in love with him. When Serena realizes she won’t have a lead role in Vanessa’s play either, she decides to mount her own production – a film to trump the two plays. She also goes after Daniel, assuming he must be talented if Vanessa wants him so badly. She gets him easily, as he has been in love with her since seventh grade, unbeknownst to her. His younger sister, JENNY also idolizes Serena and begins to imitate her. Serena thinks she’s cute, and is particularly pleased with her because Jenny is rather handy with a camera.

In all this, an anonymous column appears on the Spence website. It is a thinly veiled fictionalized account of Serena’s travails upon her return to Spence. It is written as the old-time society gossip columns were. We are unsure who writes the column, signed "Gossip Girl," and it could be any of the main characters. The column, as it continues, becomes wildly popular, first across NYC, then eventually all through America. Everyone is fascinated by the lives of these lucky rich girls from the Upper East Side. But most of all, everyone wants to know who the real Gossip Girl is.
Okay, and now finally, my comments (TV-ignorance, warts and all):

Gossip Girl focuses on a setting that has certainly shown some promise recently. With the success of TV shows set in the world of upper class teens (starting with Beverly Hills 90210 and moving up through Dawson’s Creek), as well as the resurgent growth of the teen film market (particularly in a film like Cruel Intentions, which focused on the same NYC world), a TV series of this sort is certainly worth some consideration.

One thing, however, that might supply some reservations to this series’ hopes is the city in which it is set. For some reason, show types that work in other settings, sometimes fail in a New York setting. For example, one might look at CPW, the failed NYC version of Melrose Place. Part of the appeal of some of the other successful teen shows is the locale in which they are set. Whether or not an audience would enjoy a teen show set in the Upper Crust world of the Upper East Side is at least debatable.

Another reason that Gossip Girl isn't assured success, based on this treatment, is that it supplies very little towards the manner in which the story will progress. Much of the treatment focuses on the back-story of what Serena was like before the main story starts – presumably background that would not be directly addressed in the series itself. Thus, the story itself, presented here, supplies little more than a pilot’s worth of material. While this material is somewhat promising, it would be hard to determine its long-term potential without an idea of the direction in which the story might progress.

A final point that speaks in favor of considering Gossip Girl is the potential market itself. It is no secret that today’s teens have more disposable income than any other generation previously. Which, of course, explains the growth of entertainment aimed at this market of late. True, there have been at least as many failures within this genre as there have been successes. But the potential is still there.

In short, Gossip Girl is certainly worth consideration, based solely on its setting and audience. However, without a more in-depth presentation of the proposed series, it is really impossible to determine the overall commercial potential for this series.

So if any of you watch this show (I'm pretty sure I won't), let me know how it compares!

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Blogger Emily Blake said...

If I remember correctly, CW stands for Warner of course, and CBS, which owned UPN.

8:38 PM  
Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Funjoel, AWESOME job summarizing "Gossip Girl" and giving its coverage. Sometimes I forget how talented as WRITERS you readers really are. The coverage you provided is proof of your talent. Great job!

I think I remember seeing some of the promos for "Gossip Girl." Not really my thing, BUT eversinse I wrote a teen comedy spec. script entitled, "Revenge of the Fat Chicks," (about the time "Mean Girls" came out) I've kept an ear to the ground eager to see what kind of enterainment Hollywood is providing for high school aged, teenage girls.

Overall I think this is your best post. Great job. Keep rockin'!

Your # 1 fan (at least from the state of Washington, right???) E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

3:35 AM  
Blogger Lucy said...

Nice one Joel, glad to see these posts are back. I wondered if you had been silenced by those mean studios ; ) CAN'T BELIEVE you thought CSI would bomb though, what was your reasoning if you don't mind me asking? Here we have a show called SILENT WITNESS that is about Pathology, but not as cool as CSI.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Lucy -- I just didn't think people would want to tune in each week for that without getting bored. I thought it would get too repetitive. Little did I know that (at least for the main one and Miami) there would also be healthy doses of T & A as well! ;-)

2:57 AM  
Blogger Lucy said...


I'm guessing that's tits and asses?

Always gets my vote. I'm shallow like that. And half lesbian.

3:53 PM  

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