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Gossip Girl: On the set of the spin-off that never happened

Ten years ago, Gossip Girl premiered and the country became obsessed with the Upper East Side, Herve Leger dresses and, more importantly, Blake Lively’s hair. The series became such a phenomenon that The CW even attempted to craft a backdoor pilot for a spin-off at the end of season 2.

But it just wasn’t meant to be. Eight years ago, I ventured to a damp warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. While this seems like the beginning of an Eli Roth film or Requiem for a Dream 2, it was actually an exclusive visit to the set of the Girl spin-off focused on Lily, played on The CW series by Kelly Rutherford and in this ‘80s-set version by a pre-Pitch Perfect Brittany Snow.

Throngs of young clubbers, clad in every good/bad ’80s trend imaginable (jean jackets paired with pearls, poufy miniskirts), downed beer and socialized while awaiting a performance from a hot local punk band. The proposed pilot aired as a typical episode of Girl but with most of the hour focusing on a flashback that found Lily reflecting on her own tumultuous teen years. At 17, Lily — who had been kicked out of her posh Montecito boarding school — went in search of her music-exec father (played by ’80s icon Andrew McCarthy). Along the way, she reconnected with her black-sheep sister Carol (pre-Jessica Jones Krysten Ritter) as the duo hit the aforementioned club to see a band called Snowed Out — played by guest stars No Doubt, including a pre-The Voice Gwen Stefani. “I’ve been TiVoing [Gossip Girl] but it’s hard with the babies,” said a pre-third child Gwen Stefani. “But we’re gonna take [the TiVo] on tour.” Yes, this was the time of TiVo.

EVERETT COLLECTION

The hope was that this ‘80s trip would evolve into a spin-off series all about the future socialite’s groupie past. Executive producer Stephanie Savage told EW at the time, “It would address the question, ‘How did this woman who grew up with all this Upper East Side snobbery once end up in the back of a Nine Inch Nails bus?’” There were some weird twists, like Snow playing the mother of real-life pal Blake Lively. Snow told EW on set, “I’m gonna give her a call and be like, ‘Are you eating your vegetables? What time did you get home?’”

Rumors swirled after season 1’s buzzy reception that The CW wanted a companion series to Gossip Girl. Initially, the rumblings were that Taylor Momsen’s Jenny Humphrey would be the one to break out on her own. But executive producer Josh Schwartz and Savage didn’t want to lose any of their stars, and felt that Lily’s backstory — think hookups with Trent Reznor and Slash — held the most promise. Said Schwartz on the set, “The idea of creating a new universe that can live outside of the show but still be connected, and doing a series set in L.A. in the ’80s — that got us really excited.” At first, then-CW president of entertainment Dawn Ostroff needed convincing — “I literally held her hand as I pitched it,” recalled Schwartz — but Ostroff claimed she was fully on board. “I would do anything with [the producers], even if they wanted to do a series about paint drying,” she said. “I believe in them that much.”

MICHAEL DESMOND/THE CW

Sadly, neither the Gossip Girl spin-off or a Schwartz/Savage soap about paint drying ever got the green light (the pair have returned to The CW for this fall’s reboot of Dynasty). The network passed on the series and now all we have are memories. And that very special episode of Gossip Girl saved on our TiVo.

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