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Based on a series of L.J. Smith young-adult novels, the show centers on a teenage girl, Elena Gilbert, who becomes torn between two vampire brothers, the dangerous Damon and the good-natured Stefan Salvatore. (The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the show’s integral players and executives for an in-depth oral history.)
But prior to the show’s debut on Sept. 10, 2009, executive producers Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec made drastic changes when adapting the books for the small screen — modifying everything from the setting to almost changing a major character’s name. “We had to create the rule for ourselves right away: The book is the jumping-off point for the world and anything goes from that point forward,” Plec tells THR.
Some of the changes to the framework of the world included Elena’s family structure (a teenage brother, instead of a younger sister) and consolidating her close friends (one, instead of two), which were among Plec and Williamson’s attempts at making “good development choices.” THR, with an assist from Plec, details the biggest tweaks, the Plan Bs and the character that almost didn’t make the cut.
The Salvatores almost had different names. “We had originally changed the names of Stefan and Damon Salvatore, to Whitmore, so the very first script we delivered that made the rounds was Stefan and Damon Whitmore,” Plec recalls. It was a name for an uncle character, Zach Whitmore, that didn’t clear, forcing Plec and Williamson to revisit the books. “We said, ‘Screw it, let’s just put the name back to what it was in the book,’ ” Plec remembers. Their first impression of the Salvatore name was “this meaty, beefy Italian and we were trying to ground it a little more for a small-town American audience.” Five years later, Plec admits the error of their ways. “That could be the dumbest thing we ever could have thought,” she says. “Stefan and Damon Salvatore is the perfect family name.” (The Whitmore name was later used for the college Elena and her friends attend.)
“Delena” wasn’t going to happen in first three seasons. “In season two, there was an influence pushing Damon and Elena together faster than we would have ever done it,” Plec says. “And we did everything we could to try to create obstacles, to tear them apart, to bring Stefan and Elena closer together. But you could feel the magnetic pull — not just of Twitter, but of the fandom really rooting for this.” It was a problem the writers faced during the second and third seasons, before they paired them up “exactly the time we felt it was ready” in season four. “We knew we never wanted her to be with him until she was a vampire because human Elena, no matter how much the audience loved Damon and was willing to forgive Damon for everything he’d done,” Plec says, “for human Elena to forgive him and be with him, it felt like we were destroying that character.”
Klaus’ The Originals arc would’ve been on Diaries. “If Klaus wasn’t going to do a spinoff, we needed a storyline for him and we needed a season-four, season-five purpose for his character because we had played out the Original family and Klaus as a villain in season three. So we thought of [Hayley’s] hybrid pregnancy storyline,” Plec says of being in the unique position of planning for The Originals spinoff and the mothership. “We thought, even if there’s no spinoff, we’ll do this on Vampire Diaries. That was going to be Klaus’ journey.” When Phoebe Tonkin joined Diaries late in season four, “Technically, she was the first deal we made for The Originals,” Plec says. “We just didn’t know if the show was going to exist.”
Elena almost had more BFFs. Before Caroline became a part of Elena’s inner circle alongside Bonnie, producers were toying with keeping the book’s trio of Elena, Bonnie and Meredith intact. “We actually wrote a draft in the [pilot] script where the character, Meredith, was in the pilot,” Plec says. “But it just felt like too many characters to service.”
Tyler almost didn’t happen. Early in the run, Tyler Lockwood — “who’s such a douchy character, and I mean that in the most loving way, in the book,” Plec says — was strictly in a supporting role.”[He] is somebody who we could have done without, perhaps, in the beginning of the show,” she admits. But it was his future werewolf/hybrid storyline that kept him around. “We knew it was going to be really important,” Plec says, “so we wanted to include him in the series regular group, even though we knew he probably wouldn’t get to the real meat of the story until season two.”
Why the town’s name changed. In the books, the story is set in Fell’s Church, but on the show, home base is Mystic Falls. “No disrespect to Fell’s Church, but it felt very based in religion and spirituality, and we knew we didn’t want the show to be the kind of vampire show that’s just about heaven and hell and demons and the devil and God — that kind of thing,” Plec says. Interestingly, there was no story behind the name Mystic Falls: “We changed the name of the town arbitrarily.”
The decision not to get too supernatural. Though Plec and Williamson would go to the original source material for ideas, they put a limit on how supernatural things got on Diaries. When the books started introducing “angels, and foxes, and mystical creatures, and hell dimensions,” that was the stopping point.
The Vampire Diaries airs its 100th episode on Thursday at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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