(Bitter Script Reader challenged their followers to make a list of 16 Great Shows that have influenced them as writers and viewers. This is my list.)
I seriously debated putting this show on the list.
Not because I don’t like it. Not because I don’t think it’s great.
But when I think about the other shows on this list, they all taught me something pretty specific. I can point to something particularly special about that show.
But with The Vampire Diaries, it’s different.
I remember watching the pilot the night it aired. I was worn out on Twilight fever and so I tweeted something like “Watching The Vampire Diaries. Let’s see how much it sucks.”
But the thing is, it didn’t suck. Sure, some parts were a little clunky or saccharine. Elena’s diary entries irked me (they got better over time). But by and large it was a solid pilot. I didn’t know then that this show was from the same people that had brought me Dawson’s Creek (a fellow show on this list). I also didn’t know what a significant impact the show would have on me outside the narrative.
When I first decided I wanted to write for television, I was working on my degree in Portland. I knew I wouldn’t be able to move to LA for at least another year, so I started soaking up whatever information I could find. Podcasts, twitter, blogs, you name it, I found it.
At some point I read an interview Julie Plec (co-creator of The Vampire Diaries) gave about what a typical work day looks like for her. Here’s the part that spoke to me:
I realized the first thing that I needed to do was empower people to believe in and to own their own work. Instead of sitting down and saying, ‘I’ve got this’ or ‘I’ll fix it,’ [it’s more] like walking them down the path so that they could do it for themselves. It was an instantaneous shift. It was unbelievable. The writers that we were working with suddenly went from being, like, ‘All right. Here you go. I know you’re going to change everything’ to really taking ownership over their material and delivering some really fantastic material.
With that, when the writer owns their own words, then they’re going to fight harder in prep, and they’re going to defend it better on the set, and they are going to be more adaptive in understanding what they need in post. It’s just a trickle-down effect that starts taking the workload off of me and shifting it onto them.
I wanted to work in that environment. I wanted to be mentored and encouraged to grow and own my work. So I decided to twitter stalk Julie Plec.
It’s not as nefarious as it seems. I was already following her on Twitter. But then I started following her writers and actors and then her production crew. I didn’t go out of my way to interact with anyone, I just made sure they were in my timeline so I could connect with them organically.
Eventually it worked. I won’t go into details, but I befriended quite a few people that had worked with Julie Plec. They all had nothing but great things to say about her, of course. One friend even said, “There’s no two better people to learn from than Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec.”
That changed the course of my career trajectory. I’m not banking on Julie Plec to plot my career or pluck me out of obscurity. But two years into my time in L.A. and I know I’m more entrenched in the industry than most people I know that have been here for much longer.
And through this process I came to love The Vampire Diaries even more. It became a part of my story and I became a part of it in a way too. The show has such a great heart and soul to it. You can tell the cast and crew are like family. That’s the dream in this business. To love the people you work with every day. So it feels less like work and more like living.
The themes of grief and loneliness and being an outsider were all so powerful in this show. There were some really beautiful moments and such a variety of characters that you most certainly would find one to relate to. Mine’s Caroline. I don’t think I’ll ever really understand how much of an effect that character has had on me. Her character arc is so lovely and encouraging and it has helped me through some rough times. Just knowing that someone out there has felt what I’ve felt at times in my life is a huge comfort. Caroline may be fictional, but the people writing her are not.
And there was something so admiral about how the show handled Nina Dobrev’s departure. In all honesty, I felt Season 7 (the first season without Nina) was one of the best of the series. This isn’t to say the show is better without Nina. It wouldn’t be what it is without Nina. But instead of floundering for a new identity, the writers embraced the challenge and took advantage of these secondary characters that had been given complexity over the years, but never the spotlight. Other shows have had to deal with a lead actor leaving and none of them have handled it as well as The Vampire Diaries did. They even found a new way to incorporate diaries into the show as Elena’s friends started writing down everything that she was missing.
Speaking of, I’m going to miss this show. Though I do think it ended at the perfect time and with such a beautiful episode. I’ll still be watching The Originals (love me some Mikaelsons) and I’ll watch literally anything Julie Plec or Kevin Williamson put out there.
But there’s something about that first magical show about two brothers who just couldn’t let go of the past and the girl they both loved.