June 3, 2011

THE SKED PILOT REPORT: The CW’s “The Secret Circle”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
THE SECRET CIRCLE –  Thursday 9PM on The CW:  If Nothing Else Is On…

Kevin Williamson has turned The Vampire Diaries into one of network TV’s most effectively guilty pleasures, an intoxicating stew of vampires, werewolves, witches and all manner of ancient curses and devices.  The CW hasn’t gone far afield in seeking a companion piece for their biggest hit, adapting another book series by L. J. Smith and placing Williamson again at the helm (this time with co-writer Andrew Miller).  At first glance, The Secret Circle is a somewhat dimmer shadow of Vampire, but it’s still fairly diverting.

The mythology this time is more straightforward, at least for now.  It’s basically The Craft as a TV show:  instead of ageless vamps moving to a small town, it’s our suddenly orphaned heroine Cassie (Britt Robertson, another CW vet from Life Unexpected) who comes to Chance Harbor to move in with her grandmother.  By the time the pilot is over, Cassie’s found out that her high school classmates are a coven of witches–and that she, naturally, is the most powerful of them all.  There’s a mystery brewing about just what happened with the previous generation of witches, who were the parents of the current coven (but each is now a widow or widower), and what that elder generation is plotting now that Cassie’s in town. 
Secret Circle is more teen-centric than Vampire (even though the frozen ages of the vampires semi-plausibly place them in or near high school, they’ve got adult sensibilities, and the show is able to do flashbacks set all over the world through the centuries), and it doesn’t have the frisson of Ian Somerhalder’s antihero gleefully murdering people half the time.  The teens (Thomas Dekker, Phoebe Tonkin, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Louis Hunter, Shelley Henig), too, are less quirky:  a couple of stereotypical mean girls, a class-president type, and some doe-eyed boys to be romantic interests.  In the pilot, Robertson is mostly wide-eyed, alternating between mystification and shock, but now that she knows who she is, her character may become more substantial.  The adults don’t yet make much of an impression except for Gale Harold, who cuts a nicely villainous figure.  Liz Friedlander’s direction (she’s worked on Vampire) is capable, although the show doesn’t gather much in the way of serious creepiness.
Notwithstanding Secret Circle’s very tough Thursday 9PM slot, against Bones, The Office, Grey’s Anatomy and the new Person of Interest, The CW is in a ratings world of its own–Mitch Metcalf doesn’t include its numbers in his Thursday projection because the network’s shows cater to the 18-34 young woman audience, rather than to adults 18-49.  It has the best possible lead-in with Vampire, so at the very least it will get sampled by its target demo and have some time to tell its story.  That will give it a chance to expand its reach, hopefully to include some of the narrative zigs and zags that have made its predecessor such fast-food TV fun.

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."