Almost 90 years after she was first introduced, Nancy Drew is getting a much-needed update.
The beloved teen sleuth has been around in many different forms over the past century, from books to movies to TV to video games and more. And now The CW is adding another entry to the character’s long history with Nancy Drew, the new supernatural thriller starring Kennedy McMann. But this isn’t your grandma’s heroine from the original book series.
The latest adaptation of the young detective begins post-high school when Nancy is in a kind of suspended animation. Her sense of self had come from solving mysteries in her hometown of Horseshoe Bay, Maine, until her mother’s untimely death derailed Nancy’s college plans. As a result, she swears off crime-solving while crossing off the days until she can re-apply to college.
But when a socialite is murdered, Nancy finds herself a prime suspect in the crime, along with a group of other teens present at the scene: Nancy’s nemesis from high school, George Fan (Leah Lewis); a rich girl with a mysterious past, Bess Marvin (Maddison Jaizani); Nancy’s secret boyfriend, Ned “Nick” Nickerson (Tunji Kasim); and amiable burnout Ace (Alex Saxon). The five of them must team up to clear their own names. Plus, Nancy also has to deal with her widowed father, Carson Drew (Scott Wolf), and the possibility that the mystery she’s trying to solve has a supernatural element.
Since this is decidedly different from any version of Nancy Drew that’s come before, prepare for The CW’s new mystery with intel straight from the showrunners and star about what you should expect from the first season.
Nancy’s all grown up now
One of the biggest differences between the show and the source material is Nancy’s age and maturity. “We definitely wanted to update it by making Nancy into a real 20-year-old, post-high school girl in terms of where she was in her life and relationships,” executive producer Stephanie Savage tells EW.
“It’s definitely a change from the books that she’s not a virgin,” adds executive producer Noga Landau. “She has a boyfriend and her relationship with him is consensual and grown-up. Some of the fans of the classics may take a second to readjust to that but as soon as you see Kennedy McMann play this character, you will never think that there’s been any other Nancy Drew.”
McMann loves how “this is the first time that we’re seeing Nancy this complicated and this flawed.” She adds, “You have this version of her from the original books that’s very prim and very proper; she’s the perfect daughter and the perfect girlfriend and the perfect friend,” the star tells EW. “She really doesn’t ever make any mistakes and that’s super unrelatable. In our version, we are watching her grow up and how messy that is navigating these relationships. How does she deal with the loss of a parent? How does she deal with her life falling apart and going on an entirely new track? It’s messy. She makes a lot of mistakes. She doesn’t handle every situation perfectly. This phase of life, that post-high school, beginning of adulthood time, is full of really, really messy mistakes and throwing things against the wall until you see what sticks. That’s extremely relatable and we’ll see our Nancy go through that.”
When viewers meet Nancy, it’s clear from the start that she’s in a very different place in her life, and the first season is going to explore why that is and where she’s going from here.
“She’s acting out, hooking up with this mysterious new guy she doesn’t even know that well just to quiet the voices and pain in her head,” executive producer Josh Schwartz tells EW. “It felt like leaning into that, into her psychology, it was more about adding than it was about losing anything from the original. Part of her arc is exploring why she’s lost her path of solving mysteries. She’s put away the thing that made her special, she put away her flashlight and hung up her cape, so to speak. She’s stopped solving mysteries because life gave her a mystery she couldn’t solve — her mother’s illness.”
But the new mystery that Nancy gets tangled up in will “awaken her again,” according to Schwartz. “It’s both an origin story and a story of this girl returning back to the thing that made her special,” he adds. “Plus she’s always worked alone and now she’s challenged to work with this new group of friends and how she’ll be able to work with a team when she considers herself a solo artist.”
But it’s still the same Nancy you know and love
While McMann loves how “modernized” her new version of Nancy Drew is with “all the different social changes that come with growing up and becoming a young woman in today’s era,” she also promises that “a lot of stuff tracks and stays the same.”
“She’s just as fearless and empathetic and commanding as she always has been,” McMann says. And Schwartz agrees, adding that “Nancy Drew is an iconic character who has meant so much to so many generations and readers.” That’s why the showrunners plan to “honor the material, because it is timeless, but also make it feel like it’s existing for an audience of 2019.”
For McMann, a self-described huge fan of the original Nancy Drew books, it was “very important” that the show “pays homage to who Nancy has always been.”
“She’d do anything for justice … she was born to solve those mysteries and bring justice to this town,” the actor says. “I wanted to keep that part strong, her empathy for people is what drives her. But also this sense of the fact that she thinks that she can do absolutely anything, she has no doubt in herself at all, but then gets herself stuck in some sticky situations and sort of requires help from friends that have other skills and abilities. You’ll definitely see that carried over in our version.”
Executive producer Melinda Hsu Taylor “never had any doubts” about updating their titular heroine for The CW’s adaptation, because she knew that at her core, she was still going to be the same character fans have loved for almost a century. “What makes Nancy Drew iconic is that she is brave, she is smart, she does not wait for permission from anyone to solve the crimes, she never hides her light and none of those things have changed in our iteration,” Taylor explains. “She just happens to be more dimensionalized as well.”
Yes, the ghosts are real
Perhaps the biggest change from the source material has nothing to do with Nancy at all; it comes from the genre itself. For the first time, Nancy will find herself dealing with real supernatural threats — because the ghosts are real. When the socialite’s murder rocks Horseshoe Bay, she quickly discovers that the legend of a beauty queen haunting the town is more than just a story. “The ghosts on this show are very real — and scary!” McMann says with a laugh. “Nancy’s a skeptic, but as these supernatural things crop up, it’s piercing holes in her perception of the world. I mean, she hangs her hat on logic and having tangible reasoning behind everything. That’s always how she views the world, how she conducts her investigations.”
So where did the idea come from to have real ghosts enter into the mystery equation? Surprisingly enough, from the original books, according to Schwartz. “The first thing we wanted to do was to lean back into what made the books resonate, this idea that there was always this supernatural element creeping in the corners of every original Nancy Drew story,” he says. “There was always a rational explanation for those things in the books, ghosts and haunted staircases and things like dark alleys with who knows what lurking. So we wanted to get back to that and embrace the darkness and some of those supernatural elements felt exciting.”
Plus, he promises that “pretty early on you understand that the ghosts are real.” That’s what excited Taylor, getting to finally pay off the teases from the original books that never turned out to be real. “The idea is to say, why don’t we for the first time just make it an actual ghost?” she says. “That’s part of the mystery for Nancy.”
“We wanted people to know what they were tuning into,” Schwartz adds. “We’re combining Nancy Drew and ghost stories with our show.”
“We just wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like Scooby-Doo of like, it’s not going to be a real ghost, it’s going to be Old Man Johnson with a sheet over his head,” Savage agrees with a laugh. “We wanted to quickly put that aside and let people know that we’re dealing with the genre in a different way than the original books did. Reading the books, there was always a real darkness in her, following strange men into alleys, chasing cars that didn’t have their lights on. She gets hit over the head with candlesticks and tied to chairs. That darkness was a part of who she was and what attracted young girls to those stories.”
For someone as logical and methodical as Nancy, discovering that ghosts are not only real but a real problem for her specifically is going to be quite the journey. “She is very quickly going to realize that something is haunting her and she’s going to have to grapple with the very real emotions of [wondering if she’s] going crazy,” Landau reveals.
Taylor adds, “It’s an uphill journey of watching her become a believer of ghosts.”
Why we need Nancy now more than ever
For a character who was first introduced in 1930 and has been reincarnated time and again, why is now the right time for another version to debut?
“It’s a really awesome time for women right now in Hollywood and I think she is such an exceptional role model for our audience to have,” McMann says. “It’s the perfect time to see this very commanding person who is taking control and taking responsibility for her actions and not being afraid to go for what she really wants and allows herself to be driven by her desires as opposed to what she thinks she ought to be. She doesn’t focus on impressing the people around her. She’s focusing on herself and that’s a really wonderful and important thing to teach especially younger girls.”
“We’re in a moment when we’re starting to see female characters with shades of complication,” Landau adds. “It felt like a great opportunity to get this female heroine out into the world, a young woman who suffered some loss but who is driven to discover the truth, driven to set wrongs right, who is brave, who is fierce, who stands up for herself and her friends, who leaves no stone unturned. We’re ready for her, for this version of her,” Savage says.
Nancy Drew airs Wednesdays on The CW.
Want more Fall TV Preview scoop? Get EW’s October issue for FREE on Apple News, or buy a copy now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.