March 11, 2012

SHOWBUZZDAILY @ PALEYFEST 2012: “The Vampire Diaries”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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When the PaleyFest panels end, cast members often linger for a bit to sign autographs and otherwise make contact with the fans.  Therefore when the moderator says “Thank you” and the lights go up, there’s usually a movement of audience members toward the stage.  But “movement” doesn’t do justice to the full-scale rush that greeted tonight’s salute to THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, a rock-concert level scramble that left onlookers ducking out of the aisles.

To some extent, that kind of response isn’t a surprise:  Vampire Diaries is in its 3rd year as the unquestionably biggest–well, only–hit on CW, and the viewers who watch that network are younger and in better shape than those of the others.  Because of its genre and demographic, Diaries is also regularly underrated, almost never given full credit as one of the smartest, wittiest and most narratively satisfying serialized dramas on the air. 
The evening began with a screening of this coming Thursday’s episode, the first back after a hiatus.  At the request of series co-creator/showrunner (with Kevin Williamson) Julie Plec, its climactic revelation won’t be spoiled here, except to say that it’s in keeping with the grand story twists that have marked this show from the beginning, and sets the stage for a new conflict to play out over the rest of the season.  
After a brief (inconclusive) discussion of said twist, the main part of the panel began.  Apart from Plec, most of the major cast members were in attendance:  Elena (Nina Dobrev), beloved of vampires and constantly stalked; brother vampires Stefan and Damon (Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder); Alaric (Matt Davis), who started as a vampire-hunter and is now Elena’s guardian and a veritable vampire bud; witch Bonnie (Kat Graham); and relatively new vamp Caroline (Candice Accola).  
These folks have been together on a hit for years, and they’re a loose, talkative bunch (the moderator mostly just had to toss in a question every so often and let them go).  Any spoilers were more in the nature of hints:  before the season is over, Elena will have to make “a” choice (but not necessarily “the” choice) between the brothers, we haven’t seen the last of Klaus and the Original Vampires, it’s possible that we’ll meet Elena’s parents in a flashback.  Plec was noncommittal about whether the show would ever consider following the L.J. Smith novels and making Elena into a vampire, or when evil Katarina, Elena’s vampire doppelganger (just go with it) would make a return appearance.  Dobrev got the evening’s biggest laugh when she wondered aloud why Gossip Girl got to film episodes in Paris and they were stuck in Mystic Falls.  Somerholder was appropriately Damon-ish caustic much of the time, but like his character, he could become surprisingly heartfelt, notably when he talked about how he’d survived the brutal audition process for the show.   Audience squeals greeted any mention of the Elena/Stefan/Damon triangle (and for those more interested in the tabloid side of things, Somerholder placing his jacket around Dobrev’s shoulders made their night.)  
The Vampire Diaries airs in the toughest hour on television, the 8PM slot that’s home to the deadly battle between American Idol and The Big Bang Theory, and yet its ratings have barely budged.  Beyond that success, it’s as smoothly and effectively run as any series in primetime.  Young audience tastes change–Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a legend now, but when it left the air, its ratings had preceded it–and Diaries’ status won’t last forever.  Nonetheless, it should have plenty of frenzied audience response still ahead of it.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."