Why is everyone making such a fuss over a show that cracks only 3 million viewers on a good day? Therein lies the mystery of The CW's sexy and stylish sophomore drama -- and we have some answers

By Tim Stack
September 05, 2008 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • TV Show

About forty-five minutes outside of Manhattan, in an upscale Oyster Bay, Long Island, enclave, the cast and crew of Gossip Girl are filming their second-season premiere in one of the neighborhood’s most elaborate McMansions. In the backyard, production has created a version of Diddy‘s exclusive White Party. Stars Ed Westwick and Leighton Meester take their marks on the pool patio for a squabble between their characters, rivals-turned-lovers-turned-rivals Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf. Off camera, a group of local girls watch while deliriously thumbing their BlackBerries, perhaps live-blogging the experience to their friends at home:

”OMG! Ed is so much cuter in person,” or ”Leighton’s shoes are sooo fugly.” Watching the teens, many of whom are decked out in gladiator sandals and toting posh D&G purses, you get the sense that they don’t just watch Gossip Girl, they live it.

And that’s exactly what The CW’s signature series has going for it. The flashy, sometimes trashy teen drama is a zeitgeist-infiltrating phenomenon, despite season 1’s underwhelming average of 2.4 million viewers. Still, that hasn’t kept the struggling CW from banking its future on the hope that its core audience — adults 18-34 — wants more Girl power. It has greenlit a fall schedule replete with teens and young adults living luxury lifestyles: from Beverly Hills brats in the updated 90210, to Privileged, a drama based on the successful teen book How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls, to the Devil Wears Prada-esque reality show Stylista.

Why would the network remake itself in the image of a show that ranked 150th in the ratings last season? Because while GG lacks numbers, it continues, incredibly, to be flush with buzz. The cast’s Neutrogena-fresh visages grace countless magazine covers, and trend-happy kids are spending their disposable incomes to get that GG look. ”What Gossip Girl is doing today is kind of like what Sex and the City did for the way women dress,” says Ed Bucciarelli, president and CEO of Henri Bendel in New York. ”People come in saying ‘We want the headband that Blair was wearing on last week’s show.”’ One teen, he adds, even requested a Collette Dinnigan cocktail dress — worn by Meester in May’s season finale — for her prom.

For The CW, that kind of pop culture influence could be a lifesaver. Industry watchers are rumbling that if the two-year-old network doesn’t perform better this season, it could face extinction. Can a Girl-friendly schedule save The CW? If the network folds, will that mean the end of Gossip Girl? And, most important, can Serena (Blake Lively) and Dan (Penn Badgley) really make things work? With so many questions swirling around the show, we set out to separate truth from gossip.

NEXT PAGE: True or false? Gossip Girl is a ratings disaster that’s going to get canceled

Spotted: Serena, Dan, Blair, Chuck, Vanessa, and Nate — hooking up, breaking up, and freaking out. You know you love it! Xoxo!
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  • 09/19/07-12/17/12
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