Goodbye, Jenny? – Considering the Gossip Girl Spinoff

I was reading an interview with Josh Schwartz that Alan Sepinwall did around the time of The O.C.’s series finale, and I stumbled across this answer to a question regarding a potential spinoff for the series:

[Alan: ]Whatever happened to the Kaitlin spin-off where she was in boarding school?

I was about 17 episodes into the first season, and I was asked to go up into Rupert Murdoch’s boardroom. Rupert wasn’t there but all the head honchos at Fox were there, and I was asked, with a fair amount of pressure, to do another show. I was shown a schedule where, if I did this, “The O.C.” would remain on Wednesdays at 9 and the new show would be on Tuesdays at 9 after “Idol.” Who wouldn’t want to do that? It wasn’t wise of me to do that, I had plenty to learn about the TV business, but I said, “Okay, I don’t want it to be a spin-off.” I was worried about cannibalizing the show too soon, and spin-offs usually fail. Everyone signed off on that fact, I went off and worked on a pilot called “Athens.” It was a big honor, it was going to keep “The O.C” behind “American Idol.” Then I turned in the script and everyone said, “So how do we turn it into a spin-off?” It became a protracted battle not to make it a spin-off. Then I arrived at the upfronts to announce the new show and they said “The O.C.” was moving to Thursdays, that was a perfect storm of its own. When it felt that was the only version of the pilot that was going to move forward was one I didn’t believe in, I said, maybe as a compromise, we’d have discussions about a Kaitlin boarding school drama, and then Gail Berman went to Paramount, and those discussions ended.

How fitting, then, that I looked at this so recently, as now we’ve got the exact same situation with almost eerie comparisons to this earlier one. As it completes its first season, Gossip Girl is now being spun-off by its producers (Schwartz included, one presumes) as another hit series of books by the author of Gossip Girl is being optioned. And, interestingly, “The It Girl” series surrounds the character of Jenny Humphrey falling off the wagon at Constance Billard and being sent off to board school just as Kaitlin had once been destined under the scenario Schwartz described.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Humphrey is a self-esteem challenged outsider who struggles to fit in. In the books, a series of public embarrassments (such as appearing in a teen magazine wearing next to nothing) results in Humphrey having to either repeat ninth grade or find a new school. She elects to enter a boarding school and reinvents herself as a popular girl. Her story is told in a series of six “Gossip” spinoff novels called “The It Girl.”

I don’t think it is so simple, however, to spin-off this character- Kaitlin was a nothing in The O.C.’s first season, and Jenny was anything but in Gossip Girl’s first frame. There are things about her character that are integral to Gossip Girl and might not be as expendable, and with no confirmed reports of them using Jenny’s character in the spinoff I’d have to think that they’ll figure this out as well.

I’m not a fan of Jenny’s character, to be honest: Taylor Momsen has done admirable work in the role, but there is just something about her that annoys me, and I think I’ve figured it out. You see, Jenny acts like, well, a teenage girl.

And that’s something that I, as a viewer, find annoying – yes, I’m aware it’s a teen drama, but at the same time I think that her storylines are bound to be the whiniest, or the most misguided, or in some cases just plain shrill. I like her character well enough, but as someone who doesn’t relate to her problems or understand her perspective it’s kind of difficult for me to consider her on the same level as the other characters.

In some ways she is expendable – there’s more than enough drama on the show without her, her relationship with Dan was severely downgraded in the second half of the season, her romantic storyline more weirded me out than interested me, and her father has more than enough issues to work out without dealing with a teenage daughter at the same time.

However, this is the perspective of a TV critic who isn’t exactly in the show’s core demographics. That core demographic of female teens is what the show is really worried about, and there’s two arguments why they’d watch the show: as wish fulfilment for their own lives (I’ll leave the analysis of the poor role modeling to someone else), or as their own gateway into seeing how these people work. In that sense, Jenny Humphrey is their avatar, the person that they can relate to as she walks into this world wide-eyed and desperate for attention.

To lose that from Gossip Girl seems misguided, especially when you consider how much work the show has done to place her smack dab in the middle of all of that trauma. Without her, there is no non-rich female characters outside of Vanessa, and I refuse to accept any situation wherein Vanessa is given more of a role to play. Jenny is really the only thing even close to the average viewer on the series, and I think you need that.

I’m sure some would argue that The O.C. didn’t have one, and therefore Gossip Girl doesn’t need one either, but the narrative frame of The O.C. was Ryan struggling to fit into this world – taking Ryan away from the show would have been awfully strange, and certainly FOX would have balked at Seth as a main protagonist. It was also a show that really stumbled into its best female leads, with Summer going from bit-part to main love interest and Taylor going from third season running joke to fourth season heroine. Gossip Girl, however, is built around these female characters, and taking one away would mean something to its core narrative.

So now they have a choice to make – either the producers are willing to take Jenny Humphrey out of the fold to follow the book series’ storylines directly, or they create a new character who can follow the same path and eventually find their way into the spinoff series. The prior option is the safer bet, and will likely appeal most to the network (The CW has not committed any sort of interest to the series, although logic would see the struggling network dying for more chance to brand themselves based on the series’ success). The latter, however, might be the best bet for the original series itself – losing Jenny might be a bit of a tough sell to the producers, although one has to presume that the Gossip Girl books lived on just fine without her, so perhaps it could be for the best.

But it would mean a change, and a fairly substantial one – Kaitlin leaving The O.C. (as she eventually did only to disappear for two seasons) for boarding school is of little impact, but Jenny leaving New York would change the way the show operates. I don’t know if I’d miss her in particular, but I think that some viewers would certainly miss the point of view she provides, a certain innocence that Blair and Serena just can’t provide after we’ve seen their illicit hookups.

Of course, the series might not even make it to air – there is a chance that The CW has no interest considering Gossip Girl’s modest ratings success, and that the show could languish. In that instance, the show could be shopped around, and things could get even more interesting. For now, however, it’s just an idea – but an idea with a lot of complications, and therefore a lot to think about as the development of the show (and Gossip Girl’s second season) continues.

But if we see Jenny posing for a racy magazine shoot in her underwear, chances are it’s goodbye for Ms. Humphrey.

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2 Comments

Filed under Gossip Girl

2 responses to “Goodbye, Jenny? – Considering the Gossip Girl Spinoff

  1. Pingback: tv ratings comparisons

  2. Roda

    I’ll be watching the next episode of Gossip Girl if still Jenny is in the Series. You can also have the gossip girl full episodes.

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