But Schwartz was not ready to give up, and just in the nick of time he gave us Gossip Girl. Peopled by preternaturally attractive new stars, dressed in the latest clothes, steeped in simmering emotions, and smothered with a thick coat of money, it’s like The Hills—but with less agonizing dialogue and more human deviance. (Such are the benefits of scripted drama.) In some ways, Gossip Girl is the ultimate teen Frankendrama, with archetypal characters and classic story lines. But it’s also a thoroughly modern take on the genre (it’s a show about a blog, for Perez’s sake!), where teenagers are stalked by camera phones, the parents are as screwed up as the kids, and there are absolutely no consequences for anyone’s actions. (Remember when Donna almost didn’t graduate because she got drunk at the prom? The Gossip Girl kids threw a wild bash at the school pool that caused a near-fatal accident, but got off scot-free when a rich parent paid off the headmistress.) But the best, and most addictive, aspect of Gossip Girl is that the delectable tangle of jealousy, loyalty, confusion, and general teen angst coils and recoils at such a frenetic pace. In the first thirteen episodes, Schwartz has already included a pregnancy scare, a marriage proposal, an attempted rape, a lost virginity, a near-deadly accident, a divorce, a suicide attempt, multiple thefts, blackmail, a drug addiction, a threesome, at least two counts of breaking and entering, and an eating disorder.
Take the episode this fall where all of the kids went to a giant masquerade ball. Handsomely dim Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) is supposed to meet his girlfriend Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), the school’s virgin queen of mean, at the Social Event of the Season. But Nate may actually be in love with Blair’s best friend, Serena, whom he had sex with last year on the bar at the Campbell Apartment. While Nate was clearly thrilled by this experience, Serena was ashamed and fled to boarding school in Connecticut. But now she’s back because her brother Eric tried to commit suicide. Anyway, so Blair found out about Nate and Serena and they broke up, but then Nate’s parents pressured him to reunite with her and give her his great-grandmother’s ring ("the one that Cornelius Vanderbilt gave her"). See, Nate’s dad has a huge cocaine problem and is failing massively at work, and he needs to take Blair’s mom’s fashion company public in order to salvage his career. Meanwhile, Serena (Lively) has gone to the ball with a dork from Dalton (his IM handle is Rich Boy IV), but is really in love with Dan (Badgley), the intellectual outsider from Brooklyn, who loves her back with a sincerity heretofore unseen in any real-life teenage boy with unblemished skin. Did we mention that all of this is being narrated by an anonymous teenage blogger (voiced by Kristen Bell) who puts TMZ to shame? Oh, and Dan’s little sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen) has locked Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), the show’s brooding Draco Malfoy type, on the roof in his underwear, since he once tried to date-rape her, and she’s rushing out of the building when Nate—whoops!—mistakes her for Serena, since they are wearing masks and both have 200 pounds of blonde hair extensions. So Nate kisses Jenny, thinking it’s Serena, and in the end everything is left perilously up in the air.
Try cramming all of that action into
a half-hour of The Hills.
Reason No. 2 Because offscreen, the drama continues.
When the writers’ strike forced Gossip Girl off the air in January, we and every other fan turned almost instantly from gossip about the show to gossip about the actors. It turns out that the people who play a young, beautiful gang of New York friends on TV are actually, well, a young, beautiful gang of New York friends in real life. "It’s kind of like summer camp," Josh Schwartz marvels. "Everybody got to move out to New York together and set up shop there and go through that together as a group." And like the group of friends they play on the show, they are living out story lines both glamorous and fraught—and chronicled by the city’s professional gossips.
Onscreen sweethearts Penn and Blake are rumored to be dating in real life. Onscreen frenemies Blake and Leighton are said to "avoid each other like the plague" on set, leaving their castmates to "choose sides." Ed Westwick, the British actor who plays the scotch-swilling womanizer Chuck, stays in character by appearing louche and drunk at places like the Beatrice Inn. All-American good boy Chace Crawford was said to be dating American Idol’s Carrie Underwood—and, for added spice, former boy-band member JC Chasez. Blake Lively was said to have gotten a secret nose job! A gossip blog said Leighton Meester was spotted smoking a joint at Goldbar! You can practically hear the sign-off as each new rumor hits: XOXO, Gossip Girl.