History of TV: Your One and Only Source Into What Made 'Gossip Girl' Gossip-Worthy
November 19, 2020
They say the silver screen adaptation is never as good as the book. In the case of Gossip Girl, “they” were wrong. And such is the case with gossip — the very foundation of the six-season CW drama — it’s not always entirely true but sure can garner a lot of attention.
The energetic beats of “Young Folks” match the energy of the city the show is set in, introducing us to the world of Gossip Girl as images of Manhattan flash across the screen in the pilot episode. Then, spotted: Serena van der Woodsen. We don’t know why, but we immediately cared about this blue-eyed bombshell. There was so much in how that opening scene was written and acted, and it was a roller-coaster of emotions from then on in. (And the beginning of Blake Lively’s career on center stage.)
But what kept a solid amount of viewership hooked on a show about spoiled, bratty teens from NYC? Show their spoiled, bratty parents equally engaged in snippy banter, wrong relationships, and basically making as many mistakes as their offspring so you can pull in double the viewership by capturing both age brackets. Smart move by creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, fresh off The O.C. fame (about those other spoiled, bratty rich kids from the opposite coast).
So, while money solved a lot of problems and yes, I’ve called them “spoiled and bratty” a bunch, audiences wouldn’t have stuck around if there wasn’t heart to the show. The characters were layered (see: Setting up the Twist, below!) and we really did want them to find happiness beyond their sometimes shallow, immediate goals. At the core, Serena, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley), Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), and Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) just wanted to find someone who would love them for who they really were and could see the potential of who they wanted to become once they rose above the arbitrary social scene of Manhattan’s Elite.
Setting as Character: NYC
The world of Manhattan is portrayed exactly how we imagine it to be: a glittering mess of high drama, good fashion, and iconic scenery. The lead characters would literally not be themselves without having grown up amongst what constitutes the Upper East Side physically, socially and emotionally. While serial in nature, the episodes often culminated with a social event or another, giving it an almost procedural-esque structure. Between the opening titles that recapped everything you needed to know up until then via the Gossip Girl website and said event, there was plenty of shopping (or shoplifting) to be done at Bendel’s, lies to be told en route up some famous avenue, and yogurts to be eaten on the steps of The Met.
Integrating the location into the heart of one’s story can help elevate theme, define characters and their social dynamics, as well as give audiences a peek into places they’ve always dreamed of — then turn that vision on its head. Something Gossip Girl did exceptionally well.
Setting Up the Twist
Watching just one episode of Gossip Girl is impossible. Go ahead, I dare you. While the characters binged on underage drinking (questionable choice, but perhaps a deliberate one indicative of the world the writers were trying to portray), lust (lots of it), and gossip (naturally), audiences were treated to one hit after the next of set-up and payoffs that just kept topping themselves. The secrets kept getting bigger, the guest appearances crazier, and we just couldn’t stop watching the car wreck…
Characters like Chuck’s father died twice, others were revealed to have secret children, the Ivy/Charlie identity swap for a crack at the Rhodes trust fund (which is way too long a story with not enough column space), and — spoiler alert — the biggest twist of all which we should’ve seen from Day 1: “Lonely Boy” being Gossip Girl. Because how else do you keep yourself in the know and stalk the girl of your dreams, if you don’t have all of Upper Manhattan texting you her whereabouts?
Thus, the lonely nobody from Brooklyn got his chance with the Upper East Side princess… And screenwriters everywhere learned how to put their characters through hell.
Deconstructing Stereotypes Through Conflict
The character stereotypes were firmly established from the opening frames: the tormented beauty with a dark secret; the Queen Bee with a domineering mother and inferiority complex; the handsome boyfriend in love with her best friend; the sleazy womanizer bad boy; and the outsider. Lonely Boy with his quirky family rounded out the ensemble cast. Over six seasons we watched them graduate from high school, but not from the dramatic escapades, as they encountered college and later the real world as full-grown adults, poised to take over their parents’ businesses. Or forge a new path.
It’s their youthful mistakes, the lies they tell to cover them up, and how they come together to get through it that shape the core group of characters as they evolve into — dare I say it — better people (in Chuck’s case), ones with actual goals (Nate runs for Mayor without a girl by his side for the first time ever), and find true love as they accept themselves (Blair!). Their internal struggles that are a natural evolution of growing up create the wild external conflicts of the show. As each character is respectively backed into a corner, they make a decision that forces them to grow — and break their stereotype along the journey.
Gossip Girl was basically the new Sex and the City at the time it premiered in 2007. And like every upgrade, it was younger, wittier, and better looking. Before you tomato me off the stage, I do love Sex and the City and intend to cover it in this space, as well. But back to B, S, and the rest of the Upper East Siders. Gossip Girl redefined cat fights, produced epic one liners (“You can’t make people love you, but you can make them fear you.”), and showed us that as long as we have our friends, we’re going to be okay.
You know you love the drama; Gossip Girl can be streamed on Netflix and Hulu, with its reboot (by the original creators, no less) coming soon to HBO Max.
Written by: Karin MaxeyAfter seeing her first big screen movie 007: License to Kill at age six, Karin naturally became obsessed with writing action-infused stories. The next time she’d see Benicio del Toro was in person, at the 68th Cannes Film Festival—he was there for the Sicario red carpet, she was there for her first produced short film in the basement of the Palais…same-same. In between, Karin earned a Creative Writing Degree and landed management at Echo Lake Entertainment. Her scripts have been a Big Break Top 3 finalist, HollyShorts Film Fest Official Selection, and a multi-Screencraft competitions semi-finalist. Karin is also a screenplay editor who delights in the process of polishing writers' work for submission. You can find her at www.writergirlkarin.com.