A Guide to Creating the Next ‘O.C.’ or ‘Gossip Girl’ — Here’s What’s Missing on TV Right Now
Dear TV networks,
There’s a huge hole in our lives where iconic teen soaps used to be. For years, we turned to the the sun-kissed cast of ‘Beverly Hills 90210′ and the angst-ridden residents of Capeside to give us the ideal image of what our teenage years should be like. More recently, we rocked out to Death Cab for Cutie with ‘The O.C.’ and indulged in rumors with the Upper East Side on ‘Gossip Girl.’ But since GG’s regrettable departure in 2012, we’ve been searching for another teen drama to fill the void.
Since no teen soap has yet to match our expectations, we decided to make it easier for the execs green-lighting shows. The secret to the perfect teen soap is the right balance of key ingredients. As networks prepare to announce their upcoming fall 2014 schedules, we’ve come up with the ideal recipe for a successful — and iconic — teen series.
Where would we have been without Seth Cohen’s rapid-fire sarcasm? From his frank relationship with his parents to his endless supply of pop culture, everyone’s favorite comic book nerd became an instant pop culture icon himself.
‘The O.C.’ was admittedly a bit heavy-handed with the drama (#MarissaCooper), so Seth’s light-hearted observations were a welcome relief. As teenage viewers ourselves, it made us think that we too could astound our friends with our clever, yet insightful, asides. Thanks to the impressive dialogue of ‘The O.C.,’ our vocabulary now includes phrases like “Welcome to the O.C., bitch.”
Solution: Bring back the A-team! Josh Schwartz is the mastermind/all-knowing genius behind ‘The O.C.’ He brought a vet from ‘The O.C.,’ Stephanie Savage, to develop ‘Gossip Girl’ with him and even more magic ensued. Clearly, these two know what’s up.
These days, you’ll find the dream team executive producing two B-list (but still enjoyable) shows, ‘The Carrie Diaries’ and ‘Hart of Dixie.’ Both CW shows have flirted with cancellation, which can probably be attributed to subpar characters and lukewarm plot-lines. Schwartz and Savage’s talents would best be served helming a witty drama that pushes boundaries — while still remaining attainable to a generation.
Four words: Death Cab for Cutie. A critical aspect of the Seth Cohen Starter Pack, DCFC skyrocketed to fame after claiming the prestigious title of Seth’s Favorite Band. 2003 was a big year for obscure bands with even more obscure names, and Death Cab totally fit the bill.
The influence of ‘The O.C.’ soundtrack extended beyond Seth’s love of indie bands. Each episode was meticulously curated with songs that matched the emotion of each scene. As a result, bands like the Dandy Warhols, Keane, Nada Surf, Rogue Wave, Rooney, Modest Mouse and Imogen Heap all found fans in a mainstream U.S. audience. For all of its soapy drama, ‘The O.C.’ effectively launched many music careers, while also giving viewers an amazing array of new tunes.
Solution: Once again, we turn to the model that made ‘The O.C.’ so successful. Alexandra Patsavas helped handpick the music that appeared in the California soap, as well as other shows known for their soundtracks, such as ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’
With record labels pushing Top 40 artists and the Internet brimming with underground talent, it’s nice to have a happy medium. ‘Gossip Girl’ did an exceptional job of blending mainstream and unknown musicians. Case in point: Kanye West and the Broken Remotes were featured in the same episode. The high school’s choir covered Fergie. Lady Gaga, Florence and the Machine and Lisa Loeb all appeared on the show. In short, this eclectic mix of music was a great sampling of A-list entertainers and indie bands, providing viewers with a balanced, specially curated playlist for each episode.
Sure, we loved the witty banter and musical stylings of our favorite teen soaps, but we also took fashion cues from these shows. ‘The O.C.’ and ‘Gossip Girl,’ amongst others, served as a scrapbook to commemorate the style choices of teens at the time.
Take, for instance, Summer Roberts’ velour tracksuit or Marissa Cooper’s cheerleader-esque miniskirts. ‘The O.C.’ captured these trends — for better or for worse. Later, ‘Gossip Girl’ would popularize sequins as daywear, bows for high school and messy ponytails as a must-have. As nostalgic as these trends make fans, they were major influencers during the shows’ time on air.
Solution: Get Eric Daman in here, stat. He’s the mastermind behind the fashion-forward, label-conscious characters on ‘Gossip Girl.’ Whether he was tricking out the Constance Billard School for Girls uniforms or pairing street style with couture, Daman nailed it.
No show today perfects the balance of modern fashion, while still pushing the sartorial envelope. While ‘The O.C.’ epitomized the laid-back style of the West Coast, ‘Gossip Girl’ made high fashion relatable to teens.
No Supernatural Elements!
We get it: Things of the supernatural nature are a major trend right now. We definitely aren’t opposed to vampires, werewolves and the like, but it’s not exactly relevant to our every day lives. As much as we’d love Ian Somerhalder to Somer-smolder his way into our world, it most likely isn’t going to happen. We want a teen soap that reflects our lives realistically. Well, as realistically as they possibly can.
Think about it — between Marissa Cooper’s antics, Seth’s potential comic book franchise and Ryan’s stint as a cage fighter, ‘The O.C.’ really couldn’t take much more drama. A supernatural element, like Caleb Nichol being the matriarch of a clan of vampires or Marissa Cooper fighting werewolves, would be way over the top.
Likewise, a show as flashy as ‘Gossip Girl’ would be even more unattainable if the characters possessed magical power. ‘Witches of the Upper East Side’? Yeah, we wouldn’t be into it, either.
Solution: Return to the classic formula. Take a handful of teens in the same general group of friends. Throw in an outsider and a disruption big enough to drive an entire first season. Set up at least one charming, yet unlikely, duo to fall in love. (However, circumstances must break them up by the season one finale.) Throw in some trust funds, since there is nothing more tragic or gripping than watching over-privileged teenagers create drama in their own lives. There you have it. No vampires necessary.
Paint the Picture
Most importantly, all of these elements should make for a teen soap that is both trend-setting and indicative of the era in which it airs. Flip phones, Paris Hilton in a club, and Converse low-tops — all featured in ‘The O.C.’ — will forever conjure images of 2003. Likewise, the rise of smart phones, the use of colloquial terms like ‘XOXO’ and a not-so-subtle royal wedding imitation all evoke nostalgia for the first decade of the 21st century in which ‘Gossip Girl’ is set.
Solution: Amazing fashion and a baller soundtrack are nothing without a witty script with which to helm the show. A key part of this is incorporating pop culture elements that the viewers watching will recognize. Watching characters reference current events makes them seem even more real — and all the more relatable to teens IRL. Writers developing a teenage soap in 2014 could drop mentions about everything from selfies to twerking to Jennifer Lawrence.
It may seem easy to throw together a teen soap, but the shows that are truly iconic and that withstand the test of time require the perfect balance of the right ingredients. TV networks, we’re begging you: Write wittier scripts, set them to an amazing soundtrack, include some fantastic fashion, work in some essential pop culture references and — most importantly — leave out all things supernatural.
We look forward to riding the emotional roller coaster with you.