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With the debuts of Ringer and The Secret Circle behind them, the CW looks on to its second scripted series from Gossip Girl team Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage: medical drama, Hart of Dixie, which marks Rachel Bilson‘s return to a regular series gig.
Launching behind Gossip Girl, Hart of Dixie revolves around a big city doctor Zoe Hart (Bilson) who is forced to move to a small Southern town in Alabama. In typical “fish out of water” fashion, Zoe finds herself butting heads and catching the eye of several townspeople, including George, a good-natured lawyer (Scott Porter); his Southern belle fiancee, Lemon (Jaime King); and town mayor, Lavon (Cress Williams).
Creator and executive producer Leila Gerstein is no stranger to the throngs of teen/young adult angst; she goes a long way with Schwartz and company, serving as a writer on The O.C. for two years (Bilson played Summer Roberts) before joining Gossip Girl. Gerstein chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about why she went from Orange County and the Upper East Side to a sleepy town in the Deep South.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the idea behind Hart of Dixie and what was the process like getting it off the ground?
Leila Gerstein: The show started with Bluebell because that was the place I wanted to go. In my mind, after the daily grind, I wanted to create a world that was slower and relaxing. I liked the idae of a city girl moving to a small town and it felt like the south. The BP [oil] spill was still going on when I was starting to develop it and there were all these stories of small towns in the south and it felt like that was still a place you could go in the United States and still get that small town feel with neighbors helping neighbors.
THR: You’ve also worked with Josh Schwartz before. What did you learn from those experiences on The O.C. and Gossip Girl?
Gerstein: Those shows were so much about relationships. [I learned] how to write compelling love stories and how to keep them going with long stretches of time. My show moves much slower than The O.C. and Gossip Girl, because by nature of what the show is; it’s much more romantic comedy than a soap, which those shows were. But I feel like having that soap background has helped this show with great act-out moments and that sense of longing, which I think people — I certainly did as a viewer — watch Gossip Girl and The O.C. for.
THR: Now you’re following Gossip Girl. Is that a good fit?
Gerstein: Both shows are escape fantasy for women, so we have that in common. They’re obviously completely different worlds, completely different tones. I think women who love Gossip Girl also love Rachel Bilson, I think there’s a lot of crossover. We also have great music, great fashion, so I think look-wise, it’ll appeal, I hope, to similar audiences.
THR: What should viewers expect?
Gerstein: This is also something we have in common with Gossip Girl: We have a lot of events. They have the Met ball and the Guggenheim, and we have the turtle derby and the gumbo contest. We have a heat wave that serves as the event for one episode, where everyone goes a little crazy. There’s a pancake breakfast gumbo contest. Then we have our three love triangles.
THR: There are three? Can you lay them out?
Gerstein: There’s three but they’re all overlapping, so it’s one big prism of love triangles. There’s George, [Zoe’s bad boy neighbor] Wade (Wilson Bethel), Zoe. George, Lemon, Lavon. And Lemon, George, Zoe.
THR: Why do you think that’s important, to have multiple romantic possibilities?
Gerstein: I like to have my mind changed. I like to think, “Oh, Zoe and George should really be together,” this week and next week, “Wait a minute, Wade is really special, maybe she should be with Wade. He could help her really loosen up.” I like to change expectations, I think that’s fun for an audience. I, as a viewer, like to go on that ride. I like when people are feeling like “no, no, no” and arguing with each other. Gossip Girl and The O.C. did a great job [with that]. Gossip Girl, should Blair be with Nate? Should Blair be with Chuck?
THR: Are you feeling any nerves?
Gerstein: I’m a little nervous, but I think it’ll help me in the end. Who wouldn’t be nervous? It’s my first show. I’m all the things at the same time.
THR: What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing at the moment?
Gerstein: There’s a lot of learning as I go. I’m actually weirdly sleeping very well. I don’t know if I’m just checked into some zone. I don’t know, sometimes there’s so much to worry about it’s easier not to worry.
THR: When the show gets off the ground, will more characters be introduced?
Gerstein: Starting in episode two, we are expanding our town quite a bit. We have a slew of recurring characters, people that we need to hang out in teh local bar/clamhouse/roadhouse, which is called the Rammer Jammer. There is a waitress named Shelly and we meet a couple of belles in Lemon’s world. The world is being flushed out.
THR: Is there a possibility of anyone from The O.C. dropping by?
Gerstein: [Laughs] No, I don’t foresee that.
Hart of Dixie premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on the CW.
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