Like any good network trying to push a show, the CW makes sure that its cast shows up on the right red carpets, that the photographers know where to be for the "candid" photo ops, and that its stars’ names show up in the gossip columns as much as possible.
To their credit, the cast is not all wide-eyed innocence about it. "Look, the show that we’re on, it wants us to be celebrities, it’s trying to launch us into the media like a project," says Penn. "You know. Like a social experiment." Here’s the experiment: Take a gaggle of sexy, smart young actors and move them en masse to New York City. Give them money, freedom, party invites, free clothes, and everything else a twentysomething could want. Then see how long it takes for them to become tabloid stars. It’s a natural progression from the Hills reality model—getting fans interested in what the actors are up to both onscreen and off.
As fun as it is for the cast (Albert Hammond Jr. knows who they are! And Donatella Versace!), one imagines it must also be frustrating, particularly for those who worry about being painted as the next Shannen Doherty (or Luke Perry). Recently, another item about Leighton ran in the Daily News. Nan Zhang, who plays Blair’s sidekick Kati, was leaving the show. Although the paper reported that Zhang had left to attend Brown University, it also said that Leighton orchestrated her ouster. "She was pushed off the show," said their source.
It’s this kind of gossip—so oddly on message! The Queen Bee dismisses another minion!—that makes some suspect that the Gossip Girl gossip-mongering is being driven by something more than favor-dropping publicists. That it might be part of a calculated effort by someone higher up, someone whose goal is cultural permeation.
After all, as an editor at one celebrity magazine told us, "promoting a show about gossip with gossip is not the worst idea in the world."
"Josh Schwartz is definitely the kind of guy who likes to play the puppeteer," says an online writer who has been on the receiving end of some inside Gossip gossip. "He likes pulling the strings."
Could the show’s creator be the true Gossip Girl? Now that would certainly be juicy—and practically too meta for words. Schwartz, naturally, denies leaking any information about his cast. "I try to stay away from that kind of stuff," he says.
Still, the puppeteer comment reminded us of something Chuck, er, Ed, said back at Rose Bar, during a quiet and thoughtful moment between Jack Daniels three and four. "If you think of it like an army, the writers are like the officers and generals in the back room plotting on a map, saying, ‘Put the soldiers here,’ " Ed had said. "The soldiers on the front lines are the actors, you know? And they will be the ones that take the heat and take the impact of the enemy."
We weren’t quite sure who the enemy was, but we rolled with the analogy. Yeah, we said, but you could also win the battle. "That’s right," he said slowly, his face breaking out into a Chuck-like grin. "We do win," he yelled. "We win money and sex!"
Reason No. 6 Because, against all odds, it offers profound social commentary.
Gossip Girl is the New Yorkiest television show since Sex and the City, which is why on our blog we make a parlor game of rating its reality quotient: Plus six points for Blair’s bitchy mom telling her, "Before you tuck into that [croissant], you might find the low-fat yogurt more appealing." Minus four points for warping New York into UpperEastVillageDumboBillyburgistan—a place where you can travel from Brooklyn to the Palace Hotel on the Upper East Side (it’s really in midtown) in 10 minutes, by van.
On balance, Gossip Girl gets the world of privileged New York City kids pretty right. The characters may be caricatures, but they recall real types enough to make you cringe: The mothers who want to shape and clothe (and then humiliate) their daughters. The gay father, the hipster Brooklyn father, the dad with the coke problem. And the kids who fall in love, have sex, smoke pot, and try to fight out their places in the social hierarchy. It’s accurate enough to have real-life parents in a tizzy and private-school principals lecturing students about why they shouldn’t watch.
In fact, the show has resurrected the potential for scripted dramas to be effective social satire—to present a world more accurately than a "reality" program can. Gossip Girl presents a wealth-eye view of the city, but because it is a cartoon we can laugh along with the conspicuousness of the consumption. Living among the wealthy in New York is an experience of queasy ambivalence—we find their antics both mesmerizing and icky. But on Gossip Girl, we do not have to judge them, or ourselves. The show mocks our superficial fantasies while satisfying them, allowing us to partake in the over-the-top pleasures of the irresponsible superrich without anxiety or guilt or moralizing. It’s class warfare as blood sport. And, as Blair Waldorf might say, that’s entertainment.