Everyone loves gossip about the lifestyles of the rich and famous – even if it’s the fictional sort.
And nothing proves that more than Gossip Girl. The hugely popular drama, which ran from 2007 to 2012, is returning to the screen (with a few tweaks to reflect how times, technology and teenagers have changed).
With its saucy storylines, fabulous fashion and gorgeous cast, the original series, adapted from Cecily von Ziegsar’s novels, quickly became a pop culture phenomenon.
By 2009 Rolling Stone had anointed Gossip Girl “TV’s Hottest Show” while the tussled blonde mane of young star Blake Lively became the most talked-about hairstyle since Jennifer Aniston’s famous Friends cut.
Lively played “It” girl Serena Van der Woodson while Leighton Meester was her frenemy, Blair Waldorf; their tumultuous relationship narrated by an unseen blogger known as “Gossip Girl” (voiced by Kristen Bell – the only member of the original cast to return in the reboot, screening Down Under on BINGE).
The original was shot on location in New York at famed locations such as The Met (where Lively later attended Anna Wintour’s annual ball, cementing her place as a real-life fashion icon), where fans would stake out the sets hoping for spoilers.
“It felt like we were in the centre of a marketing machine, a cultural pop phenomenon,” Meester said of filming Gossip Girl.
“There were people taking pictures the whole time and paparazzi jumping in front of the cameras – it felt like we were part of a cultural experiment.”
While never a ratings smash, Gossip Girl gained a loyal fanbase, which has multiplied as new viewers discover it on platforms such as Binge. While some of the technology featured – such as flip-phones and blogging – hasn’t aged well, Gossip Girl popularised social media and mobile phone communication in mainstream entertainment.
Tapping into the millennial zeitgeist, the show’s creators were Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, the same team behind that other hugely influential teen drama of the same period, The O.C.
“We’re lucky, a lot of the stars aligned,” Schwartz told Vanity Fair.
“The cast is really terrific and talented, and everybody is right for their parts, aside from being unbelievably attractive.
“New York and the Upper East Side seen through the eyes of young people is an exciting and seductive world. The use of technology and the way that these characters have built themselves into a self-inflicted fishbowl where their every action is blogged about, diagnosed, discussed and gossiped about speaks to the way our celebrity culture is today and the way people communicate with each other.”
Gossip Girl’s sexy storylines quickly made it a target for criticism from conservatives. In a stroke of marketing genius, the US network turned the fuss to their advantage; advertising it as “every parent’s nightmare” to make it more appealing to its young audience.
But it wasn’t just the salacious twists that kept viewers tuning in as, just like Sex and the City, Gossip Girl was a fashion trendsetter.
The two main characters’ enviable haute couture wardrobes – Blair known for her headbands and preppy ensembles and Serena for her luxe boho attire – spawned countless copycat looks.
At the time, The New York Times reported: “Merchants, designers and trend consultants say that Gossip Girl … is one of the biggest influences on how young women spend. Fans stride into boutiques bearing magazine tear sheets that feature members of the cast and ask for their exact outfits.”
Like Beverly Hills 90210 and The O.C. before it, Gossip Girl’s cast became overnight celebrities and gossip about their personal lives suddenly just as sought after as those they played. In some cases, fact really did seem to become entwined in fiction.
Just like her character – Serena’s mum Lily – Kelly Rutherford was embroiled in a messy divorce.
Ed Westwick, who played troubled Chuck Bass, has been accused of sexual assault.
Taylor Momsen’s nice girl character Jenny went off the rails. Similarly, Momsen made headlines for her bad-girl attitude.
After a guest stint on the show, Project Runway’s Tim Gunn moaned of Momsen’s diva antics: “She was pathetic. She couldn’t even remember her lines and she didn’t even have that many. I thought to myself: ‘Why are we being held hostage by this brat?’.”
Lively has said that network bosses liked when the actors generated headlines.
“They wanted us all to date,” she has said.
“They wanted us all to wear the same clothes that we’re wearing on the show. They wanted that, because then it fed their whole narrative. People could buy into this world.”
After the demise of her romance with her co-star Penn Badgley, Lively married Ryan Reynolds. The couple now have three daughters.
Meester found her happily ever after with Adam Brody – aka The O.C.’s Seth Cohen in 2014. Reportedly, the couple dress up as their small screen alter egos, once a year to keep the spark alive.
Now the reimagined Gossip Girl’s cast can expect their lives to be put under the microscope when it premieres on Thursday (July 8).
Just like the original, Gossip Girl 2.0 will follow students at from an elite Manhattan school. Only this time, Gossip Girl will be dishing dirt on Instagram, where her targets have become influencers with followers around the world.
The class of 2021 is also far more diverse and sexually confident than their predecessors. And the problems they are facing are different too.
That’s right, the world has changed. But the appetite for gossip – and Gossip Girl – has never been stronger.
Catch the new season of Gossip Girl on BINGE from July 8 – and watch the original there now.
Don’t miss the Binge TV Guide with tomorrow’s paper for an exclusive interview with Gossip Girl new talent Evan Mock.
Originally published as Gossip Girl reboot dishes new dirt