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The Genius of Gossip Girl

How a wunderkind producer, seven tabloid-ready stars, an army of bloggers, and a nation of texting tweenagers are changing the way we watch television.


Blake Lively getting ready to film a scene.  

Before you see them, you can hear them.

The sound is low but insistent, a hum that gradually develops into something recognizable. OmigodOmigodOmigod. Dan DanDanDanDan. Gotalktohimgotalktohimgotalktohim!

Samantha Ahern and a group of her girlfriends, in from Smithtown, Long Island, for Samantha’s 16th birthday, are scurrying down 51st Street all at once, their legs moving quickly and purposefully, as if they were one big millipede in True Religion jeans. Their eyes are glassy, their camera phones outstretched. DanDanDanDanDan. It’s the Ultimate Sighting.

Penn Badgley, who plays sensitive and wise Dan Humphrey on the CW’s teen soap opera Gossip Girl, is standing outside the Palace Hotel, where much of the Gossip Girl action takes place. It is there that, later today, Penn’s character will take his girlfriend Serena’s porcelain face into his hands after she has missed the SAT for reasons unknown. He will gaze deeply into her eyes as he says tenderly, "I’m not mad, Serena. I’m worried. Please help me understand what’s going on." He will do this with complete unself-consciousness, despite the fact that his arch-nemesis Chuck, who also happens to be Serena’s newly acquired stepbrother, is standing there smirking, because 17-year-old Dan is not the sort of teenager who fears public displays of affection. He is sensitive, smart, and loving, not to mention hot, and to teenage girls, for whom such creatures exist only in daydreams, he is perfect.

As the girls chase Penn into his trailer, we (and there are two of us writing this story, but on the subject of Gossip Girl we are like one) know exactly how they feel. One time we played hooky from work for an hour and skip-walked all the way from our offices in far west Soho to the East Village to catch a scene of the show being filmed. Technically, we’re a little old for Gossip Girl—our own high-school experience was kind of a while ago. Like, 90210-was-still-on-the-air a while ago. But it’s not just tweenage girls who are hooked on the show.

At first we cloaked our adoration in irony. "It’s awesomely bad," we explained to friends. "You know, like Showgirls. Or a Bloomin’ Onion." But before long we were covering the show pretty much exhaustively on the Daily Intelligencer, the blog we write on And then a funny thing happened: E-mails and texts from fans of all ages began filling our in-boxes. "S. at Cafe Gitane, not with Lonely Boy!" read one text, from a 28-year-old marketing executive. "OMG!" we texted back. "Is she cheating?" "No, he is a gay." (Translation: Blake Lively, who plays Serena van der Woodsen, was spotted with someone other than Penn Badgley, who plays her onscreen boyfriend and whom she’s rumored to be dating in real life. The "he" who is "a gay" is just some guy who looked that way to the texter.) The more we wrote about Gossip Girl, the more its radically invested fan base began to reveal itself to us. We were like a support group for the fully grown, employed, non-pervert adult fans of the show.

But there should be no shame in a love of Gossip Girl. After all, it is (and we have come to this conclusion honestly) the most awesomely awesome show ever. And so on the eve of the show’s return from writers’-strike limbo, we are here to give you the six best reasons you should openly love Gossip Girl, even if you’ve never seen it before. Why waste so much time writing about something so insipid? Because, dear readers, it’s not.

Reason No. 1 Because ‘Gossip Girl’ is the Greatest Teen Drama of All Time.

The teen drama has been around for literally thousands of years. Helen of Troy was barely a teenager when she was abducted by the king of Athens because he had the hots for her, and hello, talk about drama. But the modern iteration probably started with John Hughes movies, specifically 1984’s Sixteen Candles. The genre has grown and transmogrified over the past few decades—through Beverly Hills, 90210 (good because it was wickedly adult), My So-Called Life (good because it was painfully serious), Clueless (good because it was high satire), and various Freddie Prinze Jr. movies (good because they were bad).

Most recently, there was Josh Schwartz’s The O.C., that show that for two years happily fake-baked under the klieg lights of key demographic attention (anyone ever called you an "asshat"? That would be Schwartz’s fault) and then spectacularly flamed out in an explosion of absurd plotlines and cast defections. Reality television filled the void, as viewers realized that there was no need to watch fake teenagers kissing in a hot tub when there were real ones to be gawked at. With breasts that float better. Enter Laguna Beach and then The Hills, the semi-scripted hyperreality shows that seemed like they might sound the death knell for the teen drama.

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