Executive Privileged

Can a sweetly silly series with feminist cred survive on the CW? Maybe if it airs after Gossip Girl.

LADIES FIRST Ashley Newbrough, from left, Lucy Kate Hale and JoAnna Garcia dig in on Privileged.

LADIES FIRST Ashley Newbrough, from left, Lucy Kate Hale and JoAnna Garcia dig in on Privileged. Photo: Scott Humbert/The CW 2008

A TV adaptation of a tween book about rich kids? Stop me if you’ve watched this one before. But where Gossip Girl zigs toward drama and spectacle, Privileged, the CW’s other novel-to-show series, zags toward goofiness and warmth. Now Privileged is moving to a new, post-Gossip time slot, and executive producer Rina Mimoun hopes the higher-profile buzz factory can bring a new audience to her little-seen series.

“Literally, people do not know we’re on the air,” Mimoun, 34, laughs. Privileged, based on Zoey Dean’s book How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls, didn’t get much PR support from the CW when it premiered this fall—Mimoun says she was crossing her fingers “for one billboard”—and it’s not getting a whole lot now. But a switch from Tuesdays (after 90210) to Mondays may help solve the problem, and the network has shown its support by ordering five additional episodes. At this point, Mimoun says, “the CW will have given us a good chance.”

That’s all Privileged should need. Its quick, witty dialogue and focus on female and family relationships makes it not only the heir to the Gilmore Girls throne but also a refreshing bright spot on the increasingly dark and shrill CW slate.

Mimoun wrote for WB series Dawson’s Creek, Everwood and Gilmore Girls (“I obsessively love teenagers, and I can say that because I’m a girl, so it’s not creepy”), and she says the teen genre has changed a lot in the decade since her characters lived in Capeside. “I thought Dawson’s was a really hard-core teen soap,” Mimoun chuckles, “but now, Pacey would have to sleep with his teacher and then stab her and stuff her in a box.”

But Privileged doesn’t include murder, and it doesn’t really include a whole lot of nastiness. “The book is really funny,” Mimoun says, “but it’s a lot snarkier than the show. The [characters] were really mean, and I said to the network, 'I think you already have that. I don’t even want to try. But I think we can make it like Clueless—have more fun, be sillier.’”

Mimoun kept the bare bones of the novel: Megan, a recent Yale grad, reluctantly moves back to her native Florida to tutor Rose and Sage, twin Hiltonesque high-school sophomores being raised by their CEO grandmother, who pays more than Megan can refuse. “It was, She’ll teach them about smarts, they’ll teach her about lipstick,” Mimoun recalls. “And I was like, I don’t want to do that.” Instead, she explains, the show gives Megan a more complex family background—an alcoholic dad, an estranged sister—so rather than learning makeover tips from her students, Megan learns the value of sisterhood.

And not biological sisterhood—there’s an intentional feminist undercurrent to the series. “I love Mean Girls,” Mimoun says, “and that speech [Tina Fey] gives in the gym? I feel like that’s Megan’s role.” Most teen shows—hell, most shows in general—limit female characters’ emotional ranges, but with Privileged, Mimoun’s trying to push back. “Women are smart and funny and complex and silly.... A lot of times, they don’t get to be everything. They have to fit in a Madonna/whore [mold].” Megan exists outside that model, which contrasts with other characters on television—and makes her stand out in the vapid Palm Beach world she begrudgingly inhabits.

“[Megan’s] not one thing at a time,” agrees JoAnna Garcia, who plays the neurotic but well meaning tutor. Garcia sees Megan as “a beacon” of feminist ideals: “She’s strong, independent, competent.” But more importantly, maybe, “she’s not a bitch,” Garcia says. “No matter how dark she gets, there’s not a bitch inside her.” That makes Megan, more than, say, Serena van der Woodsen, the natural successor to Buffy Summers, Rory Gilmore and Veronica Mars.

Which is just one among many reasons the CW should be backing Privileged with everything it’s got. Mimoun says her dream would be a crossover with Gossip Girl, preferably a Blair Waldorf story line, but she’s not too picky about where support for her series comes from. “Ryan Seacrest gave us a huge shout-out [on his radio show] last week,” she boasts. “Now I want him to be on the show.”

Privileged airs Mondays at 9pm on the CW.