Pembroke Hill classmates Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain remain that rarity in the television business: a seasoned female writing duo never lacking for work.
And they keep such good company. They broke into prime-time TV when Kevin Williamson of “Dawson’s Creek” fame hired them. Next, “Buffy” and “Firefly” creator Joss Whedon put the duo on “Angel,” and then Shawn Ryan hired them at “The Shield.”
Fain and Craft (or is it Faincraft?) got to run a show on their own in 2007 but soon parted ways with ABC over “Women’s Murder Club.” What happened next may speak to their reputation more than anything: Whedon hired them back to help develop “Dollhouse.” Next, Ryan asked them to assist on “Lie to Me.”
Then this summer, as if completing the circle, Craft and Fain joined the writing staff of “The Vampire Diaries,” which Williamson developed with Julie Plec.
“The Vampire Diaries,” based on the young-adult novels published in the early 1990s by L.J. Smith, revolves around a beautiful high-school student named Elena who is courted by a new boy in town, Stefan, who in turn is stalked by his brother Damon. Needless to say, both boys are vampires.
Though a late entry into a crowded entertainment genre, “Vampire Diaries” scored the highest premiere in CW history and is poised for an even stronger second season.
The two writers talked about their decision to do the show (season 2 premieres Thursday) and the state of women in TV writers’ rooms. An edited version of our interview follows.
Q. What’s different about “The Vampire Diaries” from other shows you’ve worked on?
Fain: Well, it’s a character show with huge genre elements, so it feels familiar to us.
Craft: Actually, this is the first show we’ve worked on that didn’t have a (weekly) “case” of any sort to it. Think about it: “Dollhouse” had a case. “Angel” had a case. “The Shield” obviously had a case. “Lie to Me” had a case. “Glory Days” had a case. So this is the first that doesn’t. It’s fun. I think we’re learning a lot, because you don’t have that “case” to hang your hat on, plot-wise. It’s a learning experience. And we like anything that’s challenging us and moving us forward.
But as we’ve seen in recent years, shows like that have a tendency to implode. Why didn’t that happen last year to “Vampire Diaries”?
Craft: Julie and Kevin and the creators went through so much story. Every episode felt like a season finale: “That happened? (gasp) Omigod, that happened? (gasp)” And you think, “That must be the end of the season!”
Fain: “How will they possibly keep this going?” And then they do.
Yeah, speaking of that, what’s going to happen in season 2? Obviously when Elena walks into that kitchen, something’s going to happen …
Craft: Big things happen. But we’re so hesitant to spill any beans.
Fain: Kevin has said that someone dies. (Long pause)
Craft: Beyond that I would hesitate to say anything, except that it fulfills the promise set up by season 1.
I remember some of the fans complaining last season, “Enough with the love triangle.” But I’m surprised at how well these three (Nina Dobrev as Elena, Paul Wesley as Stefan and Ian Somerhalder as Damon) have taken everything that has been thrown at them.
Craft: You can’t really separate them. They work as a unit, which is one reason I think the show is so successful. Actually, the whole show is so well-cast.
After your deal at Fox ended, why did you decide on Warner Bros.?
Craft: We’d been interested in “The Vampire Diaries” since before the script was shot. And we knew Kevin Williamson. Our first prime-time show that we were on was “Glory Days.” It was nine episodes, back when there was a WB (network).
Fain: We’ve been big fans of Warner Bros. They have a strong development team.
Is it the same deal you had at Fox?
Craft: Pretty much — two years with a third-year option. The overall deal has a development component that sort of depends on what you’re doing. Like, this season we are spending the majority of our time working on “Vampire Diaries.” We’re also supervising another writer who’s doing a pilot. But we’re not going out and pitching our own pilot.
Fain: It takes a lot less time to supervise! (laughs)
This isn’t the first time you’ve tapped into something with a large fanbase, but have you been surprised by the intensity of “Vampire Diaries” fans?
Fain: (Laughs) Once you’ve been to Comic-Con with Joss Whedon, you’re not surprised by anything.
Craft: I get it. I get it because I’ve seen it with Joss. By the way, we’re both on Twitter now (@elizabethcraft and @smfain).
You’ve been to the mountaintop, and now you’ve come back down to work for your mentors again — maybe I shouldn’t use vertical imagery …
Craft: I know exactly what you’re asking.
… but what is it like to not be running a show anymore?
Craft: It’s funny, but having had our own show now, it’s easier being part of a team because you realize, “Wow, it’s really hard.” Which isn’t to say we don’t want our own show again in the future. It’s just that we like supporting Kevin and Julie.
And what’s it like being a woman writer in 2010? Give us an update.
Craft: On “Vampire Diaries” being a woman is a non-issue, in a good way. But there are a lot of male-dominated shows out there. And if a show is 90-percent male, no one has a problem with it. But if you have a show with six female writers, you’ll hear something from the powers that be.
Fain: At the low levels, I think it’s easier for women writers to break in than it was 30 years ago. It’s the upper ranks that haven’t changed. Just looking at the pilots from last season; very few women had pilots. It’s astonishing. That’s people in power who are bestowing power on people, not choosing women.
Craft: It’s complicated. I mean, writing is subjective. Let’s say there are two ideas for shows. One’s a man’s show, one’s a woman’s show. There are many, many factors involved, but one is: Are you used to buying a show from a man?
Fain: I think it’s easier to have confidence in bestowing what is essentially a multimillion-dollar corporation on a man whose leadership style you understand, as opposed to a woman whose leadership style may seem unfamiliar to you.
Season 2 of “The Vampire Diaries” begins at 7 p.m. on the CW.