Thursday, 11 March 2010

Women in TV week: Stephanie Savage

When thinking of the creative folks behind The OC and Gossip Girl Josh Schwartz might be the name that springs to mind, the other that should do is Stephanie Savage who co-created Gossip Girl with Schwartz and who served as a writer and producer on The OC. As she is perhaps the lesser known name and because her work on these two teen shows have had an impact on the television landscape I wanted to feature Savage as the third profile in my look at women in television.
Savage started her Hollywood career as a writer for Drew Barrymore's production company, this was the jumping block for her venture in to teen television as it is where she met McG (who served as a producer on The OC) and later became acquainted with Josh Schwartz who was the creator of The OC. For me The OC was a resurrection of the teen drama genre (even though I was just out of my teens when the show started); it had an attractive cast, a great soundtrack, fashion and adult characters that were well developed and likeable. Though the show might in some ways be responsible for MTV 'reality' shows Laguna Beach and The Hills and therefore the introduction of Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt into popular culture. That aside the show started well and despite depleted ratings by the end of its run it served as an important show in the cycle of teen dramas. The fact that it aired on Fox now seems kind of odd considering that now teen shows are mainly on the CW, a network catered for this type of audience and one where ratings of who watches the show live are not as important necessarily as other factors such as buzz and iTunes figures.

This is where Gossip Girl and Stephanie Savage have thrived. A term that both Savage and Schwartz have used to describe the importance of other factors outside of audience figures is 'cultural permeation', that the show is recognised as being successful outside of ratings due to the high volume of discussion that the show has prompted. This type of discussion might only be within certain demographics, mainly the 18-25 female demo but this is an important one in regard to advertisers and it is definitely a show that is energised by the fashion and music that it features. Savage has said regarding fashion choices that they are 'making a magazine show every week and setting the trend' and this has transferred in to Gossip Girl inspired clothing at stores such as Target, with the UK chain Miss Selfridge launching a range this coming April. Influences can be seen in teen magazines and other fashion outlets; the idea of a headband has now in some ways become synonymous with Blair Waldorf. In this respect the programme is much more than it's 42 minute air time and it is this extra curricular activity that Savage seems to understand the best.
Despite being fully into my twenties the teen based TV genre is one that still appeals, maybe it's the frivolous nature, the clothes, the music or the actors who are actually about my age but playing people much younger that still draws me in, or that in shows such as Gossip Girl and The OC that the adult characters play as important parts to the story dynamic rather than being there to serve as obstacles to the younger leads. Savage finds writing for young characters appealing because 'the stage is seems so huge and everyone is doing everything for the first time ' and that 'you just forgive young characters more and they can do some pretty crazy things, but you still route for them and hope they figure it out'. 
Up next for Savage other than more writing and producing on Gossip Girl is a script draft of The Au Pairs; another book adaptation of a popular teen series written by Melissa de la Cruz. In a similar vein to Gossip Girl these books explore rich teens, this time in the Hamptons. Savage will also serve as a producer on the Josh Schwartz film remake of 'Bright Lights, Big City' which chronicles a disillusioned magazine writer who tries to numb the pain of his failed marriage with drink, drugs and women and in the 1988 original starred Michael J. Fox and Kiefer Sutherland. This creative relationship with Schwartz is still going strong and whilst he may be the bigger name of the two, Savage is a vital part of this dynamic and I look forward to what they will both produce with regards to both two projects. 

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