There's no discernible sorcery involved, but Kevin Williamson probably was destined to become an executive producer on "The Secret Circle," the buzzed-about new CW supernatural thriller premiering Thursday, Sept. 15.
After all, the new series has two elements in which Williamson specializes: complex small-town teenage characters ("Dawson's Creek") and supernatural frights ("The Vampire Diaries"). What's more, "The Secret Circle" is adapted from a series of books by "Vampire Diaries" author L.J. Smith.
That doesn't mean "Circle" -- which packs a staggering amount of exposition and mythology into its pilot episode -- came blessed by its own fairy godmother, however. The complicated story line, about an orphan (Britt Robertson, "Life Unexpected") who is drawn into a "secret circle" of teenage witches, required a lot of rethinking by Williamson and fellow executive producer Andrew Miller, the show's actual creator.
"Andrew and I both worried about all the exposition, to be honest, because he developed this show three times, and in every incarnation of it there were various differences in the mythology," Williamson admits. "Originally, in the book, there were 13 kids who were part of the circle, then it was nine, then it was eight, then seven, and now it's six.
"We're still continuing to build the mythology, which is such a rich part of the show, but Andrew and I both are so worried in terms of 'How much of this can an audience take on a weekly basis before we reach Complicated Mythology Overload?' We're trying to be very careful in how we tell these stories so that we keep it rooted with the characters and the emotion. That's always a struggle with this type of show."
That doesn't keep the pilot episode from being terrifically entertaining. In brief, it follows Cassie Blake (Robertson), whose happy, normal life is torched by an "accidental" fire that kills her mother. Her father long since dead, Cassie moves to Chance Harbor, Wash., her mother's rustic hometown, where she soon is befriended by five other teens who tell her they, like she, are descended from powerful witches. Cassie can't believe them, until one of their number, handsome Adam (Thomas Dekker, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles"), shows her how to tap into her own magical powers.
Later, Cassie discovers a message from her late mother that helps her understand her destiny. But what she and her peers don't know is that there are other powers at work in the town -- dark, malignant powers, possibly involving some of their parents -- that may be planning to exploit the circle for their own malignant purposes.
It was this sense of danger -- or, at first, the absence of it -- that drew Williamson into this project.
"They came to me and said, 'Look, we really like this show and we think it has the opportunity to be something special, so will you please come in and help it out?' " Williamson explains. "That's when Andrew and I did a rewrite. I told him I could see the romance, but I couldn't really get a sense of danger, so we added a lot of cool creepy stuff. That was my job: to bring some danger and mystery to it."
At the heart of the story is Robertson's Cassie, around whom the entire show pivots. The 21-year-old actress admits that the work hours are long on her new gig, but she didn't have a hard time getting a read on her character.
"The most relatable aspect to Cassie from my standpoint is that when you first meet her, she is just your average, normal teenage girl, a regular high-school kid who is not part of any supernatural world," she says. "Then she gets thrown into this situation that completely throws her off guard, and she has to adapt to this new lifestyle and the family that she creates within the secret circle. There's nothing particularly crazy about my own life, so it wasn't that much of a stretch to imagine how Cassie, as an outsider, would react to all the new strangeness she is having to deal with."
Somewhat more challenging was learning the technical side of working on a special effects-heavy show.
"I didn't really know what I was in for with this show," Robertson says, laughing. "In addition to just working crazy hours because you have to shoot a show in such a small amount of time, we also have to do special effects, which extends the whole process and makes it a bit more difficult -- but at the same time, it's such a cool aspect. It's what makes the show so exciting for me, and it challenges me on a regular basis."
Although the show rests to a large degree on Robertson's slender shoulders, Williamson says he hasn't had this much confidence in a leading lady since he hired a largely unknown Nina Dobrev for "Vampire Diaries."
"Britt's beautiful, she's approachable, she gives good close-up, and she's got chops out the wazoo," he says. "Her acting is so natural that she just takes your dialogue and makes it better, and you want to write for people like that. It's so hard to find an actress that the entire show swings around, that's your anchor. I often see when a show gets it wrong, but it's also so obvious when a show gets it right, like I did with Nina. I think there's something equally magical about Britt, and I'm very excited about her."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times