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Gossip Girl’s Executive Producer Stephanie Savage on the Show’s Return Tonight

Gossip Girl returns from its winter hiatus tonight, with Serena and Chuck ready to take Lily down, Blair and Dan fresh off some Christmas vacation hang time, and a couple of rarely spotted African-Americans heading to the Upper East Side. In honor of the occasion, we got on the phone with writer and executive producer Stephanie Savage to talk about Ed Westwick’s chest hair, the Dan-Serena-Blair triangle, and what Blair Waldorf owes the American penal system.

One of the things that’s really fun about TV, is that shows have time to change and figure out what they’re good at. They start as one thing, but then actors have different chemistry than expected, and the show’s focus shifts. In the first few episodes, Gossip Girl was a show about Serena. But it’s become just as much about Blair, and really Blair and Chuck. When did you start recalibrating for that?

Well, it was always our intention to make the show a true ensemble. The pilot story’s very much about Serena, and she certainly drove a lot of the story in season one. But the hope with something like this is that you can create multiple characters that will be interesting enough, fun enough, and deep enough that you’ll be able to have them drive their own stories down the line. So, yeah, if you think about Chuck Bass in the pilot, you wouldn’t go, “Oh, that’s probably a character that’s going to have big ‘A stories’ in season four.” But if you work hard and have a great actor, you’re able to create something that becomes its own engine. 

Knowing what you do now about how important Chuck became to the show, if you could go back to the pilot, would you not make him an attempted rapist?

It’s hard to say. We’ve tried to incorporate that into his journey, to not just sweep that under the rug, and to address it at least a couple times every season so it’s incorporated into Chuck’s larger journey of figuring out who he is. And in fairness, Chuck was an attempted kissing bandit.

The Juliet story line this year was one of the first you’ve had that went on half the season, where you kept things hidden from the viewers for long periods of time. Were you intentionally trying to do something different from the more typical shorter, quickly concluded arcs?

We were feeling that that was something frustrating for fans. On the one hand, people like that the stories move quickly and that we don’t dwell on things endlessly, but we’ve also had some story lines that people would have liked to have spent more time on, but that we had to speed through. The risk that you take in committing to a longer story arc is that if people don’t like that story arc, you’re really stuck in it until it end. But we conceived of the character with Katie Cassidy in mind, and once we were sure she was going to play the character, we felt confident that we were going to have someone who would fold into our ensemble, someone who was going to be fun for our audience to watch.

Leighton Meester recently gave an interview saying she thought she’d be done with the show in two years when her contract is up. Have you guys thought ahead to then?

You know, we’re looking forward to getting a season five pickup to be back next year. So I can honestly say we haven’t put that much thought or worry into what’s going to happen in season seven.

Would you continue with a new cast?

We’re taking it one season at a time.

While I’m asking questions you probably aren’t going to answer, is Jenny going to be back for good at any point this year?

I’d rather not say because I thought it was more fun in the first half of the season, when people didn’t know.

So Dan and Blair are going to be hanging out more in the coming episodes. Early on in season one, there’s a scene where Blair and Dan have a conversation in a hallway and they sort of had … a moment? Have you been waiting to do that story line since then?

It is a dynamic in the show that’s always been there. Serena has Dan representing one choice, and Blair representing another. In a way, that is the primary triangle of our show. It’s not actually a love triangle, it’s about being torn between the world that Blair represents and the world that Dan represents. So that’s been there from the beginning, and it feels like we haven’t really mined that. There’s probably a couple of scenes a year that they have together where they have that connection between each other. That one scene you mentioned was very much about Blair and Dan opening up about his parents’ divorce, where they’re actually able to connect with each other as human beings. And then they go back to their sort of official positions as adversaries. So it’s been fun, especially with this last episode before we went off the air, where we had them come together.

Do you ever think like, “Wow, these people have all slept together a lot“?

For us, it’s not really about everybody sleeping with everybody. It probably is the case that when you have a group of friends who come up in their late teens and twenties together, most of us have slept with multiple people in the same peer group. You don’t pick just the one person in your peer group. So for us, I think that just feels realistic-slash-organic, that that just happens in those situations. And hookups don’t really draw that much story. In order to create a story that audiences really care about, I think that you have those underlying relationships and those dynamics that can connect to people. I would put our show in the context of women’s pictures of the forties, the Douglas Sirk melodramas of the fifties, and the stories of womens’ lives where everything was beautiful and dramatic, but also had a fundamental truth beneath everything. That’s what I think people respond to in the Chuck and Blair dynamic, or the Serena-Dan dynamic, that it feels like there’s a real emotional armature behind that.

We noticed that the boys have chest hair this year, and they didn’t before. Was there a talk, like, “You can stop shaving your chests now”?

It’s not entirely true that they all didn’t and then they did. But certain characters were allowed to alter their grooming situations once they were in college and no longer living at home. The difficulty we have on the show is that we have such young, beautiful parents that we have to do everything that’s humanly possible to create separation between that generation and the younger one. And then we felt that once they got into college, that was no longer so important.

Can you name names?

I think your readers will be able to figure it out.

While on this subject, you never see Chuck shirtless — is that because of Ed’s tattoos, or is it a character thing?

Part of it is a character thing. I honestly think that Chuck’s a voyeur, that he likes watching more than revealing. But some of it does have to do with that. Even having Chuck in short sleeves in Paris was quite a lot of work for your makeup team.

What other shows do you watch or think are really good?

I have a large TiVo life. I like watching a lot of reality television. Lockup, inside America’s supersize prisons on MSNBC, is one of my favorite shows. I get a lot of my inspiration for Blair Waldorf from that show.


Gossip Girl’s Executive Producer Stephanie Savage on the Show’s Return Tonight