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The Vampire Diaries spin-off

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There comes a time in a show’s life cycle — usually around season 4 — when the writers must decide whether to stick with the story-line status quo or risk making big changes to keep things interesting. The CW’s The Vampire Diaries has faced this challenge by taking some flying creative leaps: We’ve seen the heroine, Elena (Nina Dobrev), turn into a vampire and leave one Salvatore brother (Paul Wesley’s Stefan) to bed the other (Ian Somerhalder’s Damon). We’ve learned there’s a cure for vampirism — and the ongoing race to capture it has led to the rise of the world’s first immortal, Silas, who wants to start a supernatural apocalypse for love. We’ve watched Elena, who’s endured the death of her last family member, burn down her house and try to kill her judgmental best friend, Caroline (Candice Accola), who in turn murdered a dozen witches to save her brainwashed bestie, Bonnie (Kat Graham). Elena is lucky she can now turn her emotions off, because as any TVD follower can attest, all of this upheaval has been really draining. ”It’s just another polarizing choice to add to the list this year of polarizing choices,” says executive producer Julie Plec, laughing as she recounts fans’ split Twitter feedback about Elena losing her humanity. But the riskiest move is still to come.

As TVD — which averages 3.2 million viewers weekly — heads toward its May 16 season finale, it is planning to shed some major characters…but not in the usual stake-through-the-heart way. The April 25 episode will serve as a backdoor pilot for a New Orleans-set spin-off about the millennium-old Originals — the show’s beloved villain Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and his equally hot half siblings Rebekah (Claire Holt) and Elijah (Daniel Gillies). EW grilled Plec about the pilot, which was filmed largely in the French Quarter in mid-March — as well as what it means for the future of our favorite TV vamps.

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Why the Originals?

During season 3, Plec was having lunch with Warner Bros. Television president Peter Roth, who mentioned that new CW head Mark Pedowitz was interested in a spin-off. Plec immediately brought up the Originals, the dysfunctional family born out of producers’ admiration for Gillies’ turn as the noble Elijah in season 2. ”He put his fork down and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s fantastic; I’m calling Mark,”’ Plec remembers. Rather than rush a pilot, Plec took time during season 4 to turn Klaus, a vicious but lonely vampire-werewolf hybrid who routinely betrays his mean-girl sister, into a leading man. But what’s the road ahead for a mass murderer? ”Someone who is capable of love is capable of being saved, right?” Morgan says, quoting one of the year’s central themes. ”It would be a tremendous character arc.”

So what will The Originals be about?

In the April 25 episode, Klaus gets word that witches in New Orleans are conspiring against him, and he returns to the city that his family helped build — and then fled about 100 years ago — to explore the threat. He finds that his former protégé Marcel (The Game‘s Charles Michael Davis) is ruling as unofficial king and has created what Klaus has always wanted: a community. ”Marcel’s got people to look the other way while they have these crazy hedonistic parties and do whatever they want,” Morgan says. The catch: ”He’s done it through force and some pretty nefarious acts,” Plec adds. ”Somehow Marcel has managed to silence this deep and rich community of witches.”

Enter Sophie (Daniella Pineda), the witch who’s leading a revolt against Marcel. Says Plec, ”She is at the center of the mystery Klaus is trying to unravel, which is, what do these witches want with me, and what does Marcel have on them?” Elijah investigates, and he sees the potential — and power — of reuniting his family. ”If we do the witches’ bidding…then we can have a whole new kingdom,” explains Gillies.

But the larger arc for the show, as Plec sees it, is a study in character and family dynamics: ”The Originals will ultimately be the redemption tale of Klaus and, possibly, the unraveling of Elijah, who is going to have to maybe get his hands dirty in an effort to keep his brother in check.”

What does this mean for TVD?

Change is afoot for Mystic Falls. Starting with the April 18 prom episode (”Thank God! Rebekah will finally make it to a high school dance,” Holt says), the show builds toward graduation. ”It’s a time when everybody’s scattering, so it’s an opportunity to introduce a lot of new faces,” says Plec, who plans to co-run TVD next season if The Originals becomes a series. Where everyone ends up — college for some, despite their attendance records — depends on who survives, who takes the cure, and how the central love triangle twists in the finale. Wesley, for one, hopes to see Stefan hit the road. ”Stefan is really interesting when he separates from the pack and is exploring his own demons,” he says. ”I think it’s time for him to go off and then come back later to Mystic Falls and see how that impacts the relationships he has with Elena and Damon.” And with Klaus in New Orleans, would Silas take over as top villain? ”He’s definitely the Bad,” Plec says. ”Where he falls in the line of big, bigger, and baddest, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Will the Originals disappear if the spin-off doesn’t get picked up?

No matter what happens when The CW announces its fall schedule in May, we haven’t seen the last of the Originals. ”The story we’ve concocted could easily continue to play in the Vampire Diaries universe in season 5,” says Plec. Plus, the exec producer isn’t putting a bow on Rebekah’s ”unfinished romantic business” or Klaus’ connection with Caroline. Viewers may see less of Elijah, however, as Gillies just began shooting season 2 of CTV’s Saving Hope in Toronto, which means he’d have months of flying between two cities if all does go according to plan. ”I don’t know how this is going to work without me actually dying,” he jokes. ”By the end of this year, I’m going to look like Keith Richards.”

A new love interest?

While Klaus still pines for TVD‘s Caroline Forbes, nonsupernatural psychology student/bartender Cami (Leah Pipes), who’s drawn to the same dark painting as Klaus in Jackson Square, could catch his eye in the future. ”Without a doubt, romance would always be key in the Originals universe,” says Plec.

On Location

Originally, the spin-off was to be set in Chicago, but exec producer Julie Plec later decided that New Orleans would be a better fit. Says Joseph Morgan of shooting in the Big Easy, ”It’s so beautiful, I feel like we could just stand there and the scenery would do the job for us.” If they get a series order, however, the cast members anticipate filming in Georgia alongside TVD for most of the year — for both cost and time efficiency. ”Truth be told, I think it would be damn near impossible to shoot in Louisiana for the duration,” says Daniel Gillies. ”You’re dealing with a lot of drunk people a lot of the time.”

When Vampires Meet Witches (And Werewolves…)

The episode will introduce some new characters — Klaus’ vampire former protégé/potential rival Marcel (Charles Michael Davis) and witches like Jane-Anne (Malaya Rivera Drew). But the Originals won’t be the only familiar faces to TVD fans. Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin) — who learned from Klaus that there are werewolves in New Orleans sporting the same birthmark she has — wants answers about her parents and lineage. ”Her journey is how to connect her back to other people, how to find her humanity in the midst of some dark things that she’s done,” Plec says. ”This would be as much about Hayley’s redemption as anyone else’s.”

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