An interview with “Pretty Little Liars” boss Marlene King

 
 

AE: The first photo you guys released after the mid-season finale was of Allison sitting on Hannah’s hospital bed.
MK: Yes!Hannah’s not dead, I’ll tell you that. Hannah did survive her mishap with "A." Although, as we joke around here, she does have some tire marks on her cleavage.

 

AE: I haven’t read Sara Shepherd’s Pretty Little Liars books because I’m recapping the show and I want to be surprised along with our readers. But how much of season one is a departure from the books? Or are you doing a straight adaptation?
MK: You know, that’s a good question. We try to stay true to the books in the sense that we want to stay true to who the characters are in the books; we want to stay true to the essence of the characters Sara brought to life in the books, and I think we try to stay true to the core mystery. But, for example, the entire first Pretty Little Liars book is contained in the pilot. And there are only eight books, so if we stayed absolutely true to the books there would only be eight episodes. So, what we’re trying to do is stay true to the characters and the town and the general mystery of "A" and the killer. We have many, many departures along the way.

AE: Are we going to find out who "A" is in the first season? I feel like Shay Mitchell told me we would, but I can’t remember.
MK: I can’t answer that; it will ruin something!

AE:Speaking of book-to-TV adaptations, a lot of people have compared the first 10 episodes of Pretty Little Liars to Gossip Girl. Do you like that comparison?
MK: Well, I’m a fan of Gossip Girl. So I take that as a compliment! I think we’re similar to Gossip Girl in the sense that we have the same audience. But I think we’re very, very different from Gossip Girl in our town, and with our characters, and thematically as well. 

AE: Oh, I think you guys have created an excellent collision of narrative elements from a lot of great TV shows. The first season of Veronica Mars was one of the best seasons of television ever. And so you’ve tapped into the heightened teenage drama of Gossip Girl and the whole murder mystery thing from Veronica Mars. And I don’t think it’s a leap to throw Mean Girls in there either.
MK: I agree! From the moment we conceived this show, it felt like it was so many different shows. It’s a little Veronica Mars, a little Gossip Girl.It has the darkness of Vampire Diaries at the time. Twin Peaks. Desperate Housewives. And even with all of those influences, Pretty Little Liars has become its own, original thing.

AE: And part of that, for sure, is the way Pretty Little Liars is shot. The concept is much different than everything else on ABC Family.

MK: Our director of photography is Dana Gonzales and I give him so much credit for how this show looks. He is just a brilliant cinematographer, and he shows up every day and makes this Warner Brothers back lot just come to life for us. And the girls love him.

AE: It sometimes feels like each individual episode is its own movie.
MK: That’s the greatest compliment you can give me. And if you like that, you’ll love what’s coming up. We’ve got some episodes where we actually got to leave the back lot. We’ve got an episode coming up where Emily is swimming. She gets back into her swimming in the next cycle and it is just so cinematic and beautiful.

AE: Oh, our readers are going to love to hear that. Well, since you brought her up, can we talk about Emily? We’ve all fallen in love with her at AfterEllen.com, with her individual storyline and her storyline with Maya, and even with Allison.So is Emily’s journey on the show going to follow her journey in the books?
MK: Her storyline was very similar in the first 10 episodes, but in the back 12, we take a bit of a departure from the books. We give her some additional things to do, and I don’t know that in the books she ever came full-circle with her family and their understanding of her sexuality, and in the next 12 episodes, we’ve really concentrated on that. We have a beautiful storyline with Emily and her mother, and with Emily and her father coming up. And I’m really proud of it. And I think fans of Emily will be really proud of her character in that storyline.

AE: I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I’ve heard from so many readers — one just this morning, in fact — who have shared coming out stories with me, and recently so many of them have said that watching Emily has given them the courage to come out to their friends and family. It just means so much to have relatable characters like her on TV.
MK: Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m so proud of this storyline. I am so glad that we have a chance to bring this character and her storyline to life. And I know that Shay Mitchell and Nia Peeples, who plays Emily’s mom, and even Peter Roth, the head of Warner Brothers television, has taken a personal interest in this storyline. And we’re all honored and proud to be able to bring it to life. And hopefully, it helps other people know that they’re not alone.

AE: One thing that has really impressed me about Emily’s storyline so far is that so many times, especially on shows geared toward teenagers, any lesbian or bisexual content gets played up for ratings or titillation, but that’s not the case with Emily. So far, everything about her journey has been authentic and organic.
MK: I am so glad to hear you say that. And I would give some of that credit to Sara Shepherd, who wrote Emily as very truthful and real. And she gave us so much to build upon. We have taken her Emily and brought her to life on television, and we’ll continue to be true to that.

AE: Has ABC Family been supportive of the story? I know we’ve seen at least two kisses between Maya and Emily, and one between Emily and Allison.
MK: Yes, they have. [laughing] The only restriction they gave us, really, was about Maya’s pot smoking. In the books Maya was sort of a pot head, and they told us we could show that she does smoke pot, but not to show her actually smoking pot. We have no limits on the sexuality; our limits are all about drug use!

They’ve been really supportive, and they love Emily’s storyline coming up in the back 12. The second and third episodes when we come back are going to be very powerful. I think your fans are going to especially want to watch those two episodes.

AE: Well, it’s good to know they’re not putting drugs and lesbianism in the same basket!
MK: [Laughs]No, and you know, Emily’s pretty squeaky clean. There’s an episode coming up where she keeps getting referred to as "the sweet one."

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