Joshua Safran takes us inside HBO Max's continuation of the scandalous CW series.
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When Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, co-creators of the original 2007 Gossip Girl, first approached writer and producer Joshua Safran about a continuation of the CW's beloved teen series, he wasn't sure about it. But a weekend of pondering drew him back into the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite. "I walked away, and I had this idea I couldn't shake," Safran says. "I made a pretty clear choice of what Gossip Girl would be if it existed in 2021, and that choice is more limiting and more expansive at the same time."

So Safran signed on to show-run the series' upcoming HBO Max "extension," but for now he won't share that lightning-bolt idea, the "nucleus of the show." Though we know from the trailer that these days the scandalmonger's preferred platform is Instagram. "For a while, my thesis was a sole person of gossip is an old idea because gossip is everywhere now," says Safran. "Gossip is a tweet that somebody posts and then everybody retweets. But then [anonymous Instagram account] Deuxmoi has f---ed with me because it's like, 'Oh, here's a gossip site that still exists and is working just fine.' So it's interesting to see what Gossip Girl will be in the age of Deuxmoi..."

Gossip Girl
'Gossip Girl.'
| Credit: Emily V. Aragones/HBO

So, while he won't say who's behind the account for now, the showrunner does say to expect more diverse, inclusive characters and storylines — while staying true to that very particular world of the one percent. For example, "nowadays kids are fluid even before high school," he says. Since there's less pressure to declare sexual identities, some characters on the show choose to define their preferences, while others don't. Elsewhere, two of the show's leads are young Black women, one of whom is wealthy and one of whom is not. "The experiences that they have had are wildly different and that is very much a thing in the world," says Safran. "And so, one of them doesn't understand the other's experience as much as they should and that's a journey that they go on."

Gossip Girl
A scene from 'Gossip Girl.'
| Credit: Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max

Other updates include a larger ensemble, with 15 series regulars (Emily Alyn Lind, Whitney Peak, Tavi Gevinson, and Thomas Doherty among them) trading secrets in an even more decadent world. "The show is elevated; it's more sophisticated and it's bigger," says Safran. "It's more like Downton Abbey in terms of sprawling cast and one event every episode. Being a millionaire at a private school back in 2007 is so much different than now. We're dealing in global billions."

They may be richer, but — mirroring real life Gen Xers — these teens are also more socially conscious than the characters from the 2007 edition, and a lot of that is down to transparency and access to information. "In 2007, there wasn't Zillow where you could see how much your parents paid for your apartments," explains the creator. "Now, 9-year-olds can go online and find out who donated to the Republican Committee. That really shifted a lot of dynamics for the teens on this show, because they are aware."

Gossip Girl
Zión Moreno, Jordan Alexander, and Savannah Lee Smith on 'Gossip Girl.'
| Credit: Karolina Wojtasik/HBO MAX

They aren't just aware of their parents' monetary transactions, in many cases they're clued in on their moral transgressions too. "The show's really about the sins of the parents," says Safran. "[On the original] the kids didn't know better. On this version, the kids know. The kids know where their parents' money came from. They know what their parents did to get there, or maybe they turned a blind eye to it. Right now, life is a lot about turning a blind eye to things. If you are on Instagram, you could be having a horrible day, but if you want to go live or put up a story, you're going to put a smile on and no one's going to know that outside of that story, you're a mess." And for these elite influencers, both the smiles and the messes are far reaching.

But for all the changes, one thing remains guaranteed. "Gossip Girl still has the twists and the turns, and all the sad tragedies and great uplifting moments," says Safran. We already know we'll love her. XOXO.

Gossip Girl premieres Thursday on HBO Max.

Read more from I Want My Teen TV, EW's summerlong celebration of teen shows past and present.

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