Why Vampire Diaries isn't just the usual fang-bang

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

The CW's new show The Vampire Diaries seems to be the latest effort to jump on the bloodsucker bandwagon in the wake of Twilight and True Blood, but fans of L.J. Smith's original novels know the series was around long before them.

Fans of the books will notice that The CW has made a few changes in adapting the novels for television, but executive producer Kevin Williamson assures us that one thing that remains true is his attention to the setting of Mystic Falls, Va.

"It's more of a small-town show," Williamson said in a press conference today in Pasadena, Calif., as part of the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "Once you get past the premise of girl and vampire, we start to develop the story of a town. That's what we loved so much about the books, the mythology of the town, ... this evil, this darkness, that lies underneath this town and how this vampire comes to town and stirs it all up. We're diving right in. The vampires are our way into that."

Combining his experience from Dawson's Creek and horror movies such as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, Williamson promised to minimize the teen talk. This show, he said, will not focus on high school.

"We're sort of cross genres," Williamson continued. "There's a lot going on here. We have the teen element, the teen drama aspect, which you can compare to Dawson's Creek. We're not going for that heightened type of dialogue. We're trying to stay true to the books."

Up to a point, at least. Williamson said the TV series diverges from the books after a while. "By the fourth book, the [novel] series goes in a different direction," Williamson said. "We're focusing on the first three."

The cast—Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Katerina Graham and Ian Somerhalder—might not look like the characters readers imagined, but the actors said that they are going for their essence. They are Elena Gilbert (Dobrev), Stefan Salvatore (Wesley) and Elena's friend, Bonnie (Graham).

"I think we all just really wanted to capture the essence of our characters, because any fan that's read L.J. Smith's books will immediately recognize the physical differences," Graham said. "I think the most important thing for Elena, Stefan and Bonnie is to capture the essence of their friendship, who they are."

Dobrev added her perspective on why Elena is torn between Stefan and his older vampire brother, Damon (Somerhalder). "Stefan is the man who tries to reach out to her soul, and he cares about her, and he takes care of her," Dobrev said. "Whereas Damon has that bad-boy quality, and every girl likes a bad boy at the end of the day."

Williamson said it's no mystery why vampires continue to appeal to audiences. "Everything's cyclical," he said. "When I think of The Lost Boys, I get all excited. I think of Near Dark. I have great, fond memories of that. I hope maybe we're building that for this generation."

The rules of Diaries' vampires will also distinguish it from other mythology. They have a talisman that allows them to be in sunlight. Executive producer Julie Plac explained more of the distinctions for casual vampire slayers.

"The rules of killing are consistent, but the rest of the folklore doesn't apply," Plac said. "We don't have silver, garlic, can't be seen in mirrors. We also have something really interesting that the stronger you are as a vampire, the more you feed, the more human blood, the bigger and stronger you are, the more the rules apply to you. It's ironic that, yeah, you can go out and run rampant, but the things that hurt you will hurt you more. Stefan, who hasn't fed on a human in many, many years, gets a little more leeway."

The Vampire Diaries premieres Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. on The CW.