It’s the end of an era. After 8 seasons and 170 episodes, The Vampire Diaries comes to an end tonight on The CW. What originally seemed like a TV version of the movie Twilight, turned into something with much my depth and promise. It would be easy to dismiss the show as genre show full of angst for it target audience but the show helped shape The CW and generated its own large fandom which led to its very own spinoff and worldwide success.
The show’s premise was thriving with potential promise when it premiered on September 10, 2009. The series is set in the fictional town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, a town charged with supernatural history since its settlement of migrants from New England in the late 19th century. It follows the life of Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev), a teenage girl who has just lost both parents in a car accident, as she falls in love with an 162-year-old vampire named Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley). Their relationship becomes increasingly complicated as Stefan’s mysterious older brother Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) returns, with a plan to bring back their past lover Katherine Pierce, a vampire who looks exactly like Elena. Although Damon is initially the villain and harbors a grudge against his brother for forcing him to become a vampire, he later reconciles with Stefan and falls in love with Elena, creating a love triangle among the three. Both brothers protect Elena as they face various villains and threats to their town, including Katherine. The brothers’ history and the town’s mythology are revealed through flashbacks as the series goes on.
Additional story lines revolve around the other inhabitants of the town, most notably Elena’s younger brother Jeremy Gilbert (Steven R. McQueen), her best friends Bonnie Bennett, (Kat Graham), and Caroline Forbes (Candice King), their mutual friends Tyler Lockwood (Michael Trevino), and Matt Donovan (Zach Roerig), and their history teacher, vampire hunter Alaric Saltzman (Matthew Davis). The town’s politics are orchestrated by descendants of the original founding families, all comprising a “Founders’ Council.” The founding families of Mystic Falls includes the Salvatores, the Gilberts, the Fells, the Forbes, and the Lockwoods. They guard the town mainly from vampires, although there are many more supernatural threats such as werewolves, witches, hybrids, ghosts and many more.
I haven’t been the most vocal fan of The Vampire Diaries. I watched the first three seasons as they aired and subsequent seasons I would binge when they hit Netflix. It never reached how levels of fandom for me but what I have enjoyed about what creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec have done, with some inspiration from the popular book series of the same name, is that they have created a show that is drenched in extensive mythology. The show goes beyond the love triangle that is probably the main reason most fans love it and really get into the lore of the town and in its inhabitants, both past and present. Whenever the show would flashback to reveal more of the town’s history or some of the past lives of the characters and their ancestors, is when I was most invested in the show. For a series that ran on a youth skewing network, it’s pretty great that they didn’t shy away from doing more than the norm. It would be easy to build a story around the eye candy of its cast (The CW marketing department certainly did with all of their promos) but the show had larger intentions and do a good job acting on them.
A brief history of the start of the show suggests that Kevin Williamson really didn’t want to go down familiar territory. Initially, Kevin Williamson had little interest in developing the series, finding the premise too similar to other vampire tales. However, at the urging of Julie Plec, he began to read the novels and started to become intrigued by the story. Williamson stated:
“I began to realize that it was a story about a small town, about that town’s underbelly and about what lurks under the surface.”
This aspect is what drives the show. There are very intriguing characters and it began as a teen skewing show but once we learned more about the town’s secrets, and things became a bit darker, the show was able to curve its own unique identity to stand out among other shows being developed at the time.
A strong cast should also be given credit for the shows success. Nina Dobrev, Ian Somerhalder & Paul Wesley are captivating leads. Not only because they’re easy on the eyes, but they make their passion and union believable. I will admit that Dobrev’s Elena started out on a more clichéd note but her character grew over time and when she got to sink her teeth into the playing the dual role of Elena and the villainous Katherine, she really showcased her true range as an actress. As the two brothers, Somerhalder and Wesley are instantly believable as to sides of the brotherly spectrum. The good brother and bad brother is a familiar trope but their history makes it very interesting to watch. It’s also intriguing watching how their characters, particulary Somerhalder’s, progress over time. Damon is the epitome of the most charming kind of evil but he’s given nuances that make him more than a traditional villain. He also becomes less of a villain as the series goes on but he never loses his edge. I honestly think when people look back on the show’s history his portrayal of Damon will be the most remembered. Lastly, the love triangle does what most good love triangles should do. It creates lines in the sand between who Elena should be with and the chemistry between all three performers makes a strong case for it to go either way.
The supporting cast is also very strong and as the series progressed, they were integrated into the main arc of the story. This makes them more than just supporting players because they drive the story just as much as the main cast. Candice King, Zach Zoerig, Michael Trevino, Kat Graham and Steven R. McQueen to name a few, are all memorable in their own right and have even been in stories that prove to be even more interesting than the ones that feature the three leads. I love a show that doesn’t forget characters like this. They become more than background noise and The Vampire Diaries seemed to have respect for its full cast because it gave them a lot history and emotional pathos to work with.
The pilot episode was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, but the rest of the episodes have been filmed in Covington, Georgia (which doubles as the show’s fictional small town of Mystic Falls, Virginia) and various other communities around Greater Atlanta to take advantage of local tax incentives. Those tax incentives were a blessed in disguise because another one of the show’s strengths over the 8 seasons has been its strong visual style. This is a show that is equal parts sexy and mystifying. A show like this needs to draw you in with its visual palette and if you pay attention to any of the show’s promotional key art over the years, they have taken their visual motif and turned it into something captivating to watch on screen. The CW at the time was full of color and sexy teens but The Vampire Diaries added a touch of danger to it and it’s something that has endured for the entire run of the series.
The Vampire Diaries was an immediate hit out of the gate. The network had success with Gossip Girl but The Vampire Diaries broke records for the network when it premiered in 2009. The pilot episode attracted the largest audience for The CW of any series premiere since the network began in 2006 with 4.91 million viewers. The show didn’t immediately win over critics when it premiered but as the show progressed, critics embraced it and soon the show became an international success which has led to its very impressive 8 season run.
Another sign of its success was its spinoff potential which result in a show that I think even rivals it on a creative level. Former president of entertainment at The CW, Dawn Ostroff, mentioned a spinoff idea in 2010 that she said could happen in a few years. A spin-off was in development for the 2011 fall line-up but due to Kevin Williamson’s commitment to The Secret Circle, it was put on hold indefinitely.
On January 11, 2013, it was announced that a back-door pilot focused on the Originals, starring Joseph Morgan as Klaus titled The Originals would air on April 25 for a potential series pick-up for the 2013–2014 season. This second spinoff attempt was carried out by Julie Plec with no involvement by Kevin Williamson. On April 26, 2013, The CW announced that The Originals had been ordered to series premiere in the 2013–14 television season and the show premiered on October 3, 2013. While the show has never reached the high level of ratings success of its parent show, it has been embraced by critics and fans alike who appreciate its dark tone and interesting characters. The series is currently heading into its fourth season.
As the fog rolls in on Mystic Falls for the last time tonight, the creative team and cast of The Vampire Diaries should be applauded for a job well done. Show’s like this can go so wrong but they were able to get the tone of the show just right. Some may not see it now, but I think the show will maintain a legacy as years go by because it has crossed the pop culture barrier and managed to be a genre show with its own voice.