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‘Gossip Girl’ creator Joshua Safran dishes on new HBO Max show

'Gossip Girl' creator Joshua Safran dishes on new HBO Max show

Xoxo . . . she’s back.

Nine years after the original “Gossip Girl” blog went dark, as the modern-classic teen soap ended on the CW, the show has returned in a new incarnation on HBO Max.

Premiering July 8 and set in the same scandal-filled world of exclusive Manhattan prep schools, the series features an all-new cast of characters. It’s peppered with references to the original, even as the gossip-hound spills secrets in a new social media format.

“I kind of came into this show with a whole list of things that I felt were prevalent in culture [now] and areas that I wanted to look at,” creator Joshua Safran, who was also an executive producer on the original show, told The Post.

These areas include cyberbullying and the life cycle of an online rumor, as well as more racial and sexual diversity among the cast and characters.

The original “Gossip Girl,” which aired on the CW from 2007 to 2012, followed the outrageous antics of wealthy New York teens, including Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick), Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) and Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley). The titular omniscient blogger — whose identity wasn’t revealed until the final episode — cooked up scandal and drama along the way.

The original "Gossip Girl" ensemble in 2007: Dan (Penn Badgley), left Chuck (Ed Westwick,) Jenny (Taylor Momsen), Serena (Blake Lively),front, Nate (Chace Crawford), and Blair (Leighton Meester), right.
The original “Gossip Girl” ensemble in 2007. Back row from left: Dan (Penn Badgley), Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Jenny (Taylor Momsen). Front from left: Serena (Blake Lively), Nate (Chace Crawford) and Blair (Leighton Meester).
©CW Network/Courtesy Everett Co

The revival show centers on new scholarship student Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak), who’s entering the cutthroat social scene of Constance Billard school (now-co-ed). The top clique includes famous influencer Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander), who’s Zoya’s estranged half-sister; Julien’s boyfriend Obie Bergmann (Eli Brown), who’s not quite comfortable in the spotlight of her fame; the poised Audrey Hope (Emily Alyn Lind), who has a messy home life; Audrey’s pink-coiffed skater boyfriend, Aki Menzies (Evan Mock); pansexual bad boy Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty); queen bee Monet de Haan (Savannah Smith); and Monet’s right-hand woman, Luna La (Zión Moreno).

The new "Gossip Girl" ensemble: Aki (Evan Mock), left, Max (Thomas Doherty), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), Obie (Eli Brown), Julien (Jordan Alexander), Monet (Savannah Smith) and Luna (Zion Moreno).
The new “Gossip Girl” ensemble, from left: Aki (Evan Mock), Max (Thomas Doherty), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), Obie (Eli Brown), Julien (Jordan Alexander), Monet (Savannah Smith) and Luna (Zión Moreno).

Characters from the old show are name-dropped in several episodes: Nate Archibald is mentioned as a “notable alum,” while another character browsing the old Gossip Girl blog marvels, “This Chuck and Blair thing is out of control . . . definitely pre-cancel culture.”

The latter was on Safran’s list of social topics he wanted to address in the updated series, along with the ways in which the internet can allow for people to project a distorted version of a story that “becomes the truth,” he said.

“The way I looked at it was, whatever is in the zeitgeist about the original show still is in the zeitgeist for the characters referencing it. It’s a fictional universe, but it’s nine years later. And if people [in the real world] are talking about how Chuck’s behavior and attitude wouldn’t be acceptable in 2021, it’s become a part of [the show].”

For viewers who haven’t watched the original in years, a reminder: Chuck (Ed Westwick) attempted to rape Jenny (Taylor Momsen), and he was also highly manipulative towards Blair [Leighton Meester] throughout the series. His toxic behavior is largely glossed over or waved off as typical bad boy behavior, which wouldn’t fly today.

The top clique in the new "Gossip Girl" includes Julien (Jordan Alexander), left, Max (Thomas Doherty), Aki (Evan Mock) and Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), right.
The top clique in the new “Gossip Girl” includes, from left, Julien (Jordan Alexander), Max (Thomas Doherty), Aki (Evan Mock) and Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind).

Befitting Gen Z, the new characters are more edgy and experimental — especially when it comes to their style and gender identity. Reflective of modern-day Instagram and TikTok stars, It girl Julien rocks a shaved haircut that would have made Serena sob, while Aki has a pink ‘do. The love-triangle plots are more sexually fluid, with a central one involving two guys and a girl.

“Queer identity is talked about differently,” Safran said of the reboot.

Gossip Girl’s MO has also gotten an overhaul, too. Whereas the dish was spilled via blog in the first series, Gossip Girl has an Instagram account now. The audience also knows who’s behind it — a key difference between the reboot and the original show, which didn’t reveal that Dan Humphrey was the mastermind until the end.

“I was only interested in redoing a version if we could know who Gossip Girl was from the beginning,” said Safran, adding that he wanted the new show to dig into the role’s emotional ramifications.

“A lot of websites and TikToks have popped up, like, ‘Dan couldn’t have done this because of this!’ So, I felt like there was an entire avenue we didn’t explore . . . which is, if you were Dan and you knew you had information that could destroy the person sitting next to you — and you watched Serena receive it and you knew you loved her but watched it crush her — we never explored the toll that takes.”

Does he regret elements of the original that haven’t aged well — such as the big Dan reveal or Chuck’s unsavory plot lines?

“There are things that could have been better or deeper. I wouldn’t necessarily say things shouldn’t have happened — because I do think there was a noble intention. But maybe the nuances were lost,” Safran said.

” ‘Gossip Girl’ is a soap and has to turn story every 10 minutes. That show burned plot very fast, and it’s one of those things that makes it still talked about today. And sometimes [a plot point] seems right in the moment, and you’re not taking a step back and looking at it very thoroughly [until later]. Life teaches you things, or you grow and the world changes. I don’t think there’s any filmmaker that would ever say about a project, ‘This work is perfect.’ “

New "Gossip Girl" queen bees Luna (Zion Moreno), left, Julien (Jordan Alexander), and Monet (Savannah Smith), right.
Move over, Blair and Serena: New “Gossip Girl” queen bees are, from left, Luna (Zión Moreno), Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Monet (Savannah Smith).

Airing on HBO Max also enables the new show to be more R-rated than the original.

“It’s always fun to have the guardrails off a little bit, especially on a show like this that deals with some hedonism and sexual exploration and exploration relating to drugs,” said Safran.

“In broadcast, you have to tame it down. And that wasn’t necessarily what would really happen. Our goal in this version of the show is to realistically depict [teen lives]. It’s not to push it just to push it.”

For instance, in one episode a character gets sexually experimental with her boyfriend. Since it’s not something they’ve done together before, he thinks she might have cheated on him.

“It’s a story point, it’s not, ‘Hey, look at these teens doing a sex act!’ ” said Safran. “I don’t think there’s any gratuitous stuff. It doesn’t mean it’s not fun and funny and delicious, as opposed to a three-minute sequence that looks pretty just for the sake of it.”

"Gossip Girl" sisters Zoya (Whitney Peak), left, and Julien (Jordan Alexander), right.
Zoya (Whitney Peak), left, and Julien (Jordan Alexander).

And for any viewers wondering if familiar faces such as Dan or Serena might pop up, Safran teased that it could be on the horizon.

“There are a couple cameos — not from any series regulars, but from people that the audience will know. The original cast has very active workloads and lives. It would be so terrible to have Blair on the show and have her only have two lines or two scenes. That’s not fair to Leighton or Blair.”

But, he added, the door is open for them to appear on the show “at some point in the future.”

About the author

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Julia Mangels

Julia has handled various businesses throughout her career and has a deep domain knowledge. She founded Stock Market Pioneer in an attempt to bring the latest news to its readers. She is glued to the stock market most of the times and just loves being in touch with the developments in the business world.

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