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When the original Gossip Girl premiered on the CW in the fall of 2007, it arrived just prior to the streaming revolution. And those who were obsessed with the pop-culture phenomenon knew the best way to stay up on all the Upper East Side drama was to tune in when it aired on TV. Indeed, there were few (legal) digital options for watching the series prior to 2011 when deals were struck to put episodes on Netflix and Hulu.
So the fact that the new iteration of Gossip Girl is debuting on WarnerMedia’s own digital hub, HBO Max, is just another sign of how streaming has transformed the TV landscape.
“I think that’s where the audience is,” WarnerMedia Studios CEO Ann Sarnoff told The Hollywood Reporter at the series’ red-carpet premiere in New York last week. “And I’m excited to both have the audience who loved Gossip Girl before to see what we’re doing to reinvent it now and to bring in a whole new fanbase that happens to love streaming.”
“I’m actually grateful that HBO Max airs shows weekly because I think what made Gossip Girl work the first time around and made it such a big hit was that you watched it on Monday and you talked about it all week, what was going to happen,” Safran told THR. “And we deliver those moments at the end of each episode that make you think and make you talk and make you want to know what’s next, so [with] HBO Max, if you’re watching it now, you have a week. If you binge it, if you’re going to wait to binge it, that’s fine. But I actually think it’s great you get the best of both worlds. If you want to watch it every week and know what your friends are talking about, you can be part of the conversation, or you can wait until the end and watch it all at once like a limited series.”
And Josh Schwartz, who executive produces the new Gossip Girl along with his partner in developing the original, Stephanie Savage, thinks the original’s long run on Netflix in recent years makes this a seamless transition.
“A big part of the original Gossip Girl audience has discovered it on Netflix, in the intervening five, 10 years that it’s been and now HBO Max, so I think for a lot of the audience it feels pretty seamless to experience it on streaming now because that’s how they experienced it the first time,” Schwartz said.
While set in the same world as the original, the new series features fresh faces playing different characters nearly nine years after the original Gossip Girl website went dark. Though the reboot tells a new story, Sarnoff acknowledges that there’s “definitely a connective tissue” between the two series while arguing that both are “innovative” for their time.
In addition to Safran, Schwartz and Savage’s involvement, original Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman returns, explaining how the clothes offer “the same fantasy, but the look itself is very, very different.”
“It’s very current. It’s very right now,” Daman said of the fashions for the reboot. “We didn’t have Instagram on the original, we didn’t have influencers, so looking to all of that really inspired how we were designing for this generation. In the original, we did not see sneakers at school, now we’re seeing tennis shoes, we’re seeing biker shorts, we’re seeing oversized proportions. The school uniforms were very outside the box compared to what we did on the original.”
Whitney Peak, who plays new student Zoya Lott, told THR she hopes fans will appreciate both series as their own entities, while also enjoying the inside references.
“They’re two very different things and to compare them would kind of take away from what each has to offer,” she said. “I think I’m very confident in how everybody’s going to receive the show and I’m hopeful it’s going to be without judgment and just take it for what it is. But of course I’m very excited to see if the original Gossip Girl fans pick up the little Easter eggs hidden throughout the show.”
Part of what makes the new version different from its predecessor is the presence of influencer culture, with Jordan Alexander’s Julien also an Instagram star.
Alexander said in developing Julien, she “looked into influencers on a whole to get a certain vibe. That’s a very specific lifestyle. Not everybody experiences that. I know I don’t really experience that. So it took some getting used to to kind of sit in that privilege and all of these things being handed to you.”
Safran previously said that the teens in the new series will “wrestle with their privilege,” and he elaborated to THR on how the reboot offers a different perspective on those born into wealth.
“The kids are more aware of their privilege, [but] that doesn’t mean they don’t abuse it. What I found very interesting about kids today of privilege is that they’re very aware of that privilege, they know what it means to have it, but they still make mistakes and they still do things with that privilege where they don’t even notice that they shouldn’t be,” Safran said. “What’s so fascinating to me is it’s actually worse if you know better and you still do it than if you don’t know better, so I would say that the characters are a little bit more devious and the show’s a little more twisty because you watch somebody who you know knows better still go ahead and destroy someone. I think that’s where the extra layer is.”
While some conceded at last week’s premiere that they felt overwhelmed by being part of the latest chapter of the pop-culture phenomenon, Donna Murphy, who plays Headmistress Burton and acknowledged that the excitement of her 16-year-old daughter and friends contributed to her taking this role, said that the feeling surrounding those involved with the new show isn’t so much a weight but an “energy.”
“I think it’s more of an energy that’s carrying forward of excitement and I think there’s a lot that is new and there’s enough that is very different that there’s the potential to satisfy people who were fans of the first and a new generation of fans,” Murphy said.
Fellow cast member Johnathan Fernandez is already familiar with the reboot pressure after appearing on Fox’s Lethal Weapon series, and said “the trick is you make it your own by making sure the thread of the predecessor is strewn throughout.”
“If you try to do a carbon copy, that’s not going to work very well. People right away are like, ‘I’d rather watch the old one.’ Whereas if you just keep the soul and base and foundation of the original, it’s easier to move forward and tell different stories,” he said. “And I think we’ve all kind of felt that, especially since none of our characters existed in the previous [series], so that’s also weight that we don’t feel at all, so we’re just able to start fresh.”
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