'Gossip Girl' Dishes the Dirt


"Gossip Girl," The CW's teen soap premiering Wednesday, Sept. 19, is the sole fall pilot that had teen girls begging for a sneak preview.

For those whose lives are not punctuated by shrieks, Fall Out Boy or constant bells signifying an IM, teenage girls cut their braces-encased teeth on the "Gossip Girl" books.

Cecily von Ziegesar's international best-sellers center a Web site run by the mysterious Gossip Girl (Kristen Bell in a narration-only role), who chronicles the lives of insanely wealthy teens of Manhattan's Upper East Side in her blog.

In the opening scenes, Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") arrives in Grand Central Station after a self-imposed yearlong exile at boarding school. Her return, captured on a girl's cell phone camera, sends Gossip Girl and the Upper East Side teens who thrive on her dish, into a frenzy.

"This is really royalty, or the closest thing we have to it, these sort of young socialites-to-be," says executive producer Josh Schwartz ("The O.C.")These are the scions of families whose names we know. They're families with primary residences and vacation homes around the world, families with staff, families who needn't mingle with the hoi polloi, except to hire them to do what they would rather not.

This rarified existence, where high-school girls think nothing of spending thousands of dollars on a dress for a dance, is artfully depicted in the much-awaited drama.

Parents intent on shielding their teens from sex, drugs and life without adults hovering, should be warned that these teens have sex and do drugs, and their parents enable this lifestyle.

"They're handed everything on a silver platter," says Lively, whose character is the "it" girl in Gossip Girl's universe.

So they pretty much do whatever they want, as personified by Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick, "Children of Men"), a recidivistic date rapist.

"He seems to be the dark kind of character, who stands out," says Westwick, in his native British accent, which he squelches for the show. "Chuck is the antagonist. He almost seems bored with life at 17. Maybe he'll be one of those guys whose grades aren't that good. But he doesn't need to try. Perhaps he is the wealthiest (of all of the characters)."

Wealth is a vital aspect of this show, as these are children of entitlement. Their expectations never go unmet.

"These will be people in power," Westwick says.

In many ways, they already are. The teens are not only patrons at the swankiest hotel bars, but heirs to them.

Chuck paws at Serena in the kitchen of his father's posh hotel. Though tipsy, she fights him and escapes. Serena was knocking back martinis, but no one asks for her ID. These sorts of Manhattan watering holes charge upward of $22 a drink, but she doesn't care. Serena's drinking to forget.

One of the reasons Serena left town was her tryst with her best friend's boyfriend, Nate Archibald. Nate (Chace Crawford, "The Covenant"), remains with Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester, "Entourage").

Nate, says Crawford, is a "Manhattan pot-smoking lacrosse player. He's in a love triangle between Serena and Blair and it could get messy."

Given that Blair is the show's meanest girl, it's going to be way more than messy. Blair filled the void as queen bee when Serena left, and she is not about to relinquish her position socially or romantically.

Blair's mother, who bears a striking resemblance to designer Carolina Herrera, and is also a fashion designer, constantly harps on Blair.

"Blair's relationship with her mom can be explored very deeply," Meester says. "She always feels like she's not good enough. She's the central reason for all of Blair's insecurities."

The pilot explains the various relationships, and any teen can relate to boyfriend/girlfriend troubles, feeling unsure of your place in the world -- even if the world seems to be at your disposal -- and nagging parents.

Serena's mom, Lily (Kelly Rutherford, "Melrose Place"), cares more about appearances than her children.

Serena befriends Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley, "The Bedford Diaries"), who has a crush on her. On Serena and Dan's first date, his sister, Jenny (Taylor Momsen, "Underdog"), texts him that she's in trouble. They rush to her defense as Chuck tries to rape her.

Dan and Jenny live with their hipster dad, Rufus (Matthew Settle, "Brothers & Sisters"), an art gallery owner and rock 'n' roll musician. Rufus and Lily were once lovers, but she would rather forget a past that includes scruffy musicians. Lily is peeved that Serena is dating Dan, whom Lily dismisses because he's not rich.

Money is vital to this show because it is at the center of the teens' existence. Shooting on the Upper East Side, where this is set, has been "pretty intense," Crawford says. "There are padded silk walls and carved gold door hinges in $30 million mansions. It gets sort of ridiculous.

"I knew some kids at Pepperdine, whose parents were so busy. The parents were flying around and the nannies are out and the kids get this bizarre reality. The parents own hotels and the workers are not going to say no to the kids. These kids take advantage. It's an absurd reality."

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