Good morning Upper East Siders. The top story on the page today? It's been an entire decade since Gossip Girl first premiered. 10 whole years since Serena van der Woodsen was spotted getting off a train at Grand Central. 10 whole years since Blair Waldorf barred her from the Kiss on the Lips party. 10 whole years since the first Eleanor Waldorf criticized Blair's outfit (10 years minus three episodes since the second Eleanor Waldorf did the same).
So much has happened in the last decade, readers. The identity of Gossip Girl was revealed, to the blight of many. Chuck and Blair got married. Serena and Lonely Boy got married. Blake Lively had at least 3,000 Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants reunions. Leighton Meester married Adam Brody. Leighton Meester and Adam Brody had a baby. But truly nothing can compare to the wonder, the excitement and the shock that rained down on society when Gossip Girl hit the airwaves.
And though most people have moved on from the world of lavish spreads at the Palace Hotel and nonexistent classes at the Constance Billard School for Girls, the Upper East Side left a lasting impression on pop culture as a whole—and that's one secret we will tell.
To truly understand what the show meant, one has to remind themselves of what the world was like back in September, 2007. The WB had just transformed into the CW, bringing its legacy of teen dramas that included cultural stalwarts like Dawson's Creek and Gilmore Girls. It gave the new network a bit of caché but it also meant that there were very large onscreen shoes to fill. Longtime fans were apprehensive, to say the least, about what the merger would mean for their destination for all things both juicy and vulnerable.
Sex and the City had ended three years ago, and while there were surely shows that featured characters as equally infuriating for reasons you couldn't quite put your finger on, and with wardrobes just as laughably over-the-top, the show's finale left a deep void in that very specific and particular New York zeitgeist that SATC managed to capture. Something about the Big Apple being its own character proved irresistible on television and audiences loved to see the crazy lives of people who lived large in the country's most outlandish city—it was noticeably absent in the wake of SATC.
It was this absence that co-creator Josh Schwartz wanted to capitalize on, while all the while being mindful that creating a show out of the New York zeitgeist meant they couldn't rest on their laurels. "First we needed New York to embrace the show," he explained at the 100th episode party several years ago. "And once that happened we hoped the rest of the world would follow."
Their hopes came true—it was a hotly anticipated drama even before the premiere, thanks in part to the sweeping popularity of the teenage book series with the same name. Gossip Girl saw Sex and the City's gratuitous skyline shots, society parties and expensive shoes and raised it cat fights, out-of-control- parties and even more expensive shoes. From the very first episode, which featured underage drinking, illegal parties, a family living in the Palace Hotel, an attempted date rape, an attempted suicide, an attempted de-flowering, a 16-year-old in full garter hose and a seemingly unlimited number of trust funds, it was captivating.
The ratings didn't necessarily fall in line with its buzz in the beginning, but it was a show that everyone was talking about from the get-go.
According to fellow co-creator Stephanie Savage, that was all because of the camaraderie among the young cast.
"Everybody cares about each other and about the show and I think that ends up visible on the screen," she said. "People watching the show can actually feel that people making it care about it, and I think that's a huge factor.
But another major contributor to the show's early buzz factor was all the racy material that set it apart from the more family-friendly worlds of the Gilmores and their peers. This wasn't your grandmother's version of the Upper East Side, unless your grandmother was a pill-popper who spent more time plotting the demise of her fellow students than actually attending class. (And maybe she was!) That rubbed some people the wrong way and the show did everything they could to lean right in to the raunch.
The advertising campaign for the second season of the series consisted of posters around the Internet (and New York City at large) that featured Serena, well, let's just say in the throes of passion. The acronym "OMFG" was splashed across an image of her apparently getting a very large hickey. That in and of itself stirred up the requisite controversy, mostly in the way the network was hoping for and also in the way of formal complaints filed by the Parents Television Council (which is probably another way they wanted).
That led to another round of posters displaying Serena in even more throes of even heavier passion, accompanied by real review quotes like "Every parent's nightmare" and "Mind-blowingly inappropriate." It used negative reviews in its own favor, positioning itself as the show that your parents don't want to you watch. That drew in teenage viewers, and also reminded the older portion of the demo that there was plenty of adult material for them, too.
For those fans who could really care less about shock value, the fashion was Gossip Girl's most important and most lasting legacy. The fashion became a character on the program in and of itself. It was partly that the members of this version of the Upper East Side were rich and thus tailor-made to dress aspirationally, and partly that they just looked really, really good. There are certain shows that embody style for every era and Gossip Girl did that for the mid-aughts. It's a testament to the costumers that one can scroll through old Google Image results of Serena van der Woodsen and still want to wear most of her outfits today. (That handkerchief during her Grand Central Station homecoming scene? How prescient!)
And even those looks that weren't instant classics (her penchant for plaid shorts over tights comes to mind), they still elicit a warm feeling of nostalgia and the acknowledgement that it was once a moment.
There's something to be said for the cast's collective hair, too. Sure, Serena and Blair's flocking locks and huge curls were enviable, but what was most impressive were Nate's man bangs. Chase Crawford was rocking the Justin Bieber look before "Baby" was even a single.
All jokes about man bangs aside, the stars of Gossip Girl became Stars as the show progressed. It goes without saying that it put Blake Lively on the map and launched her into the full-fledged A-lister she is now, but it also made celebrities out of the other actors, splashing them on every magazine cover possible (Leighton Meester was on Lucky, Glamour, Cosmo, and InStyle to name a few) and putting them in every tabloid that graced the grocery store aisles.
It helped, of course, that there was plenty of off-camera hooking up to go around—pop culture at large was fascinated by Blake and Penn's romance and even more fascinated when they broke up and had to keep working together. It was a huge moment for Kristen Bell, who voiced the narrator, as well: After all, barely a year after the finale, she voiced Anna in Frozen. Coincidence? Probably not.
The actors have been quite candid in acknowledging the many ways in which they were thrust into the spotlight. Michelle Trachtenberg, who played bad girl Georgina Sparks, explained the scrutiny she experienced while on the show at the 100th episode party.
"There's definitely a greater pressure to look good when I leave the house now," she said. "Sweatpants are not really Gossip Girl. I feel like I've honed in on my fashion skills, too."
Badgley spoke openly at the same event about how his life changed in a flash.
"My life has changed in every way imaginable," he said. "I was out of work in LA, probably borderline depressed, cynical about the business and acting, but the show has really opened me up. I feel incredibly fortunate...The highs and the lows, the good and the bad, everything about it has just been such a massive experience for all of us."
And finally, Gossip Girl created TV recapping as we know it. It's now hard to remember a world in which each episode of pop culture's most beloved programs wasn't lovingly and painstakingly analyzed and rehashed—it's become integral to even understanding basic plot points of more complicated shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. For the less cerebral series, recaps are a place to come to discuss the best moments with a group of like-minded people who all have the exact same obsessions. That started with Gossip Girl.
It was a show so ridiculous and over-the-top that one's opinions about it just couldn't be contained. New York Magazine was the first to pick up on this and garnered a devoted following for their recaps of what they deemed "The Greatest Show of Our Time," which was structured like a reality index. It was designed to separate the most realistic parts of the show (Upper East Side brunches have dress codes) from the clearly fictionalized (there are trees in Williamsburg).
The practice is second nature now, but every time you rush to Twitter after finishing Game of Thrones, you should thank your lucky stars that Gossip Girl once had so many plot points.