Alloy’s Leslie Morgenstein & Gina Girolamo

The brand-new Pretty Little Liars spin-off Original Sin has been released on HBO Max. The series marks yet another evolution of a smash-hit YA franchise to come from Alloy Entertainment, which is also behind such successes as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries. The company also recently released Purple Hearts, starring Sofia Carson, which has been in the top 10 on Netflix, even reaching the number one spot. A publishing and production company, Alloy has been at the forefront of the YA explosion, through books as well as TV. Leslie Morgenstein, president, and Gina Girolamo, head of television, talk to World Screen about the power of franchises and the types of YA stories that resonate with audiences outside of the demographic.

***Image***WS: How is Alloy positioned in the TV landscape?
MORGENSTEIN: We are known, first and foremost, as being a company with great IP that appeals primarily to young women—so properties that put us on the map like Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries. Eventually, it evolved into slightly more grown-up properties like You.

To speak to the marketplace and the competitiveness of the marketplace and the global nature, increasingly, while we want to serve what was our core—that younger female demo—we also want to continue to broaden out. So, slightly older and sophisticated properties like You and properties that appeal as much to men as they do to women.

Being part of [Warner Bros.] for our TV business was a very organic transition. It’s been ten years now; it’s baked into what we do. We had a producing deal at the company for five or six years prior to the acquisition. So, it was very much our home.
GIROLAMO: We have many years of working together, and there’s a level of trust and a shorthand. They’re also more willing to give us as much context and full disclosure as producers than if we were strictly in a pod deal.

WS: Tell me about the model of publishing content in which you own the IP and then are able to either produce or license out that content.
MORGENSTEIN: The model developed organically. There was a point in time in the late ’90s when we said, our business is going to be built on three principles. One, we’re going to develop and own the IP. Two, we’re going to transition from being a company that produces books and licenses to film and TV to being a company that produces books, film and TV. And three—we were doing tremendous volume at the time on the book side, 100-plus titles a year—we are going to become more focused on bigger, better properties.

The first two properties that were developed after we laid that as our foundation were The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Gossip Girl. Those principles are very much what the company is about. One of the things that so strongly distinguishes us from so many producers is that we own the material, and we are able to, creatively and from a business perspective, be involved at all steps and very much steer the course. We don’t hand our properties off to other producers. Obviously, we license to whomever is ultimately financing the project, but we always stay involved creatively.

WS: How do the publishing and TV arms support each other?
MORGENSTEIN: It’s had a very gradual evolution over the years. Going way back, I was really the only conduit. Today, the businesses are very symbiotic, and there’s a free flow of ideas and information between the two offices. So, when we are developing book properties, there frequently is input from our execs in TV and film. And when Gina and her team have a great idea, they reach out to New York and share it. When those ideas make sense as books as well as series, we jump on it. And then, not as frequently as we’d like to, we do several times throughout the year get together as the entire creative team and just pitch ideas. Sometimes those ideas have a life as books and shows or movies. And sometimes we say, well, this one makes a great show or movie, but maybe it doesn’t make a great book, or maybe that’s something we’ll look at later or vice versa. Sometimes we feel like, this is a great book and maybe there’s not necessarily a show there, but let’s pursue it. Although, at the end of the day, the model is very much that we are a company that creates IP that we produce on multiple platforms. And that’s, I believe, where we bring the most value.

WS: Why do you think it is that the YA space is having such a moment right now?
MORGENSTEIN: For so many of us, we became who we are when we were teens, when we were young adults. Those stories, whether you’re 15 or 50, have such relatability and such an emotional connection to the audience that there is an evergreen aspect to them. The appeal is much larger than the demo. [The stories are] about coming of age and what makes us who we become. There is an inherent connection to the audience, regardless of the audience’s age.

WS: What led to the Pretty Little Liars sequel, Original Sin?
MORGENSTEIN: We’ve been very fortunate to have a couple of very substantial franchises. For me, as a business person and as a creative person, I don’t believe they’re ever over; we’re just waiting to hear a great vision for the next iteration. And we were very fortunate. Susan Rovner, who was running development at Warner Bros. at the time, called to let us know that Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] and Lindsay [Calhoon Bring] had a vision for a new version of Pretty Little Liars. We’re huge fans, and we were so eager to hear it. They blew us away. That was the inception of this new show.
GIROLAMO: We were also, as a company, craving the next big, fun, ensemble of empowered girls. The original was so iconic in terms of the relationships of those women and the trials and tribulations of dealing with this force that was threatening their daily lives. [We were] wanting to reinvent an escapist and entertaining series using a beloved franchise. Roberto and Lindsay’s theme that they came to us with, which drove the development of this new version of PLL, was something that we all related to and quite love: “coming of rage.”

WS: How did the idea to reboot Gossip Girl come about, and how has that IP flourished from the original books?
MORGENSTEIN: These franchises that hit with the audience all eventually run their course, whether it was the original Gossip Girl books or the original Gossip Girl TV series. We were waiting to hear the next great version from a creator, which we heard from Josh [Safran]. The new show is phenomenal.

The new PLL show, Original Sin, will feel like a pretty dramatic departure from the original series. Gossip Girl feels more like an evolution; the DNA feels very similar to the original series. So, these new versions, or reboots, take on a life of their own. It gets back to: The best creative wins. Josh had a very specific vision that everyone was excited about, and he’s delivered on it.
GIROLAMO: There are so many new stories to tell with this new cast of characters and new places to go to. The evolution of social media was something that we were all really excited about exploring. The fashion and the cultural impact of the show have been huge. All of our cast members have signed on to really big [brand] campaigns. The cast has been embraced by the fashion and beauty industry in a way that the original ultimately got to.

WS: Tell me about the types of partnerships Alloy looks to enter into and why it’s a value to keep working with talent across multiple projects.
MORGENSTEIN: We’ve developed some really great working relationships with other production companies and talent in both film and TV and when possible, we try to continue to partner with them on the right projects.
GIROLAMO: Particularly on the talent side, we spend so much time and consideration casting that if whatever project we’re working on ends its course or ends too soon, we’re always going to take the treasures that we’ve uncovered and try to work with them again in other projects.
MORGENSTEIN: Sometimes it just comes down to who we think is great, who we know that the audience loves. Lucy Hale is an example of that. Lucy was in the second Sisterhood movie, and then she was in our series Privileged. We were just huge fans of hers. So, when we were casting the original PLL, I don’t believe Lucy even read; I think we just offered it to her with the network’s support. Another example is Sofia Carson, who was in The Perfectionists, one of the Pretty Little Liars spin-offs. We loved her; we were fans of her singing as well as her acting. So, when we were putting together the movie Purple Hearts, we went to her and said, Let’s do this together. That comes from being in the trenches on a previous production and having a sense for talent and who we think the audience is going to respond to.

WS: What’s the focus for Alloy in the 12 to 18 months ahead?
MORGENSTEIN: We’re spending time thinking about and looking at our development and library and what we’re not seeing. I believe that Original Sin is an example of that. Fans and non-fans are going to be very surprised; it’s not [like any other] show you’re seeing on TV currently. We talk a lot internally about, what can we produce that we can’t wait to see?