Q&A: 'The Vampire Diaries' Boss on the Series' Breakneck Pace, Casting Klaus and Bonnie's Fate
Kevin Williamson also discusses how Twitter and the blogosphere have made maintaining secrecy on the CW’s Thursday night drama more difficult.
One of the CW's most talked about shows, "The Vampire Diaries," has given the young adult set an edgier, sexier "Twilight" for the small screen. But sustaining the fast-paced storytelling, balancing an ensemble cast and taking on showrunning duties on a popular series isn't without its challenges. Even with regular web buzz, the Thursday drama averaged less than 3 million viewers and a 1.3 rating in the 18-49 demo in its most recent airing. (Season to date, the show averages a 3.0 rating in the women 18-34 demo and is the CW's top-rated show.)
It's been a busy few weeks for Kevin Williamson, creator of the WB's "Dawson's Creek" -- as well as a few short-timers, including the CW's "Hidden Palms." Currently editing the 21st episode of "Diaries" at the Warner Bros. lot, Williamson is also overseeing the CW pilot, "The Secret Circle," centered on witches. The busy TV vet spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the creative changes that took place on "Diaries," maintaining the speed of its storytelling and what has changed in television since "Dawson's Creek" aired.
[Warning: There may be some spoilers ahead.]
The Hollywood Reporter: Vampire Diaries runs through storylines very quickly. Are there any concerns about sustaining the pace?
Kevin Williamson: It’s hard to do. In terms of burning through story, no. This is one of those shows where the story just keeps coming. We’re already planning Season 3 and we already know what the big storyline is and the big thruline.
THR: What has been the biggest adjustment for Vampire Diaries since it began?
Williamson: One of the biggest changes is we’ve gone from a four-act structure to a six-act structure. It’s been one of my biggest challenges, trying to keep momentum in the story. We’re all about our twists and turns and to try to work all that through sometimes - with a teaser - a seven-act break, is a bit of a head-scratcher.
THR: How has television changed since Dawson's Creek?
Williamson: When Dawson’s Creek was on the air back with the WB, you didn’t have ABC Family. You didn’t have all the competition that you have now. The way in which Vampire Diaries is being viewed by the consumer – and predominantly our youth – has radically changed. What that means for the business is anyone’s guess.
THR: The show attracts a similar demographic that Dawson's Creek garnered. How has that audience evolved?
Williamson: The audience has seen every story ever done. They know every twist and turn that you’re going to do. Part of the way you can send them off-kilter and keep them intrigued is to move at a fast pace so you don’t give them time to get bored, you don’t give them time to think about what the next twist is going to be because it happens so fast.
THR: Was there a storyline you weren't 100 percent sold on in the beginning that ended up moving forward?
Williamson: I remember when we came up with the [Katherine arc]. I said we can only bring Katherine in once or twice. We had written the first episode and we were down on set watching Miss Nina [Dobrev] portray her in that little black outfit and slink her way to set. I said, “OK, we might need to rethink this.” We kept saying we’d see her in three or four episodes, and the next thing you know, Katherine took over. We recreated the storyline. She was always supposed to be the puppeteer and the mastermind off-camera, and we brought it on-camera. It gave us another true villain and for Damon another adversary.
THR: Were there any other modifications to a specific moment or episode?
Williamson: Originally we had planned to kill [Bonnie] for four episodes and let Elena be the one who hid her away and surprise everyone with it but we said the audience would hate us. They’ll never forgive us. Then we thought we could do this for one episode and bring her back next week. Then we thought no, better to do it at the end of the commercial break. We finally came down to a commercial break was all we could get away with.
THR: Has Twitter affected your ability to maintain a level of secrecy?
Williamson: I do feel like spoilers get out there, whether it be the blogs or leaks within the studio and network. We’ve had a couple of big twists spoiled on the Internet and I’m always sad about that. I do know that if something is spoiled and given up and [fans] read it, and then that episode airs three weeks later, it doesn’t hurt us too much. Most people who read those blogs, they read it so they can learn the spoilers and it doesn’t keep them from watching [the show].
THR: What is the most frequent note you receive from the network or studio?
Williamson: We write so quickly that it’ll be a note going, “Could you explain what they mean in this moment?” We’re such a serialized show that if you didn’t watch last week, you’re not going to understand this week. So we try our best in Act 1 to reset, we try to stick in exposition to explain what’s going on.
THR: What were conversations like casting a pivotal character like Klaus?
Williamson: I wanted someone who felt European, who felt old world. Clearly, I went to the accents. [Laughs] Joseph Morgan came in and he nailed it. He had the sense of humor that I wanted Klaus to have. The way we always described [the character] is, “Klaus can out-Damon Damon.” We teased this season between Damon and Klaus, but there’s so much material, it’s an open minefield next year between Damon, Stefan and Klaus. The originals, here they come.
THR: Why do you think some of the TV shows you created in your career didn't last?
Williamson: When I brought [the CW] Hidden Palms, I wrote it on spec and said, "Here’s a story about a kid who moves to Palm Springs and moves in next door to a teenage serial killer." It was a teenage Dexter. As soon as it got picked up, they went, "We don’t know about that Dexter part." It was a little bit of wrong time, wrong network. I probably should’ve put that script in a drawer and waited.
THR: As a showrunner, what is your biggest challenge?
Williamson: The deadlines. TV goes so fast; you’re filming one [episode], you’re editing one, you’re prepping one and you’re writing one all at once. You’ve got your hands in seven different episodes all at one time. It’s hard to juggle from time to time, particularly if one has a hiccup. Julie [Plec] and I wanted to make an epic show and you know what, it takes a lot of epic work. [Laughs]
THR: Any other projects?
Williamson: I’m halfway through a new feature and I’m halfway through a new TV show, but they’re just sitting there waiting for me to dive into them. Both are in the thriller realm: one’s horror and one’s more dramatic thriller.
Vampire Diaries airs "Klaus" at 8 p.m. on the CW.