Unlocking the Vampire Diaries: Genre, Authorship, and Quality in Teen TV Horror

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Vampire Diaries began life as a series of novels before being adapted into a television series screened on the CW channel in the US and ITV2 in the UK. This article explores how the show contributes to debates over genre and authorship within the context of the TV vampire via its status as a teen horror text. It also investigates how the show intersects with debates over quality television via the involvement of teen-TV auteur Kevin Williamson. In exploring genre and authorship, the article considers how The Vampire Diaries functions as a teen drama and a TV vampire/horror text.

Keywords: vampire, quality TV, television, authorship, The Vampire Diaries, genre, young adult fiction, horror

Stacey Abbott argues that 'the vampire ... is shaped by both the changing world into which it emerges as well as by the medium through which it is represented'.1 This article extrapolates from this claim to understand the success of the contemporary television show The Vampire Diaries (2009-) within its industry construction and position as a teen TV show, within discourses of quality television, and in relation to other current vampire fictions. The Vampire Diaries is an American fantasy/horror/teen television series developed by the producers Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, based on the book series of the same name by L. J. Smith.2 It focuses upon Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) who falls in love with vampire Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley). Stefan's vampire brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder) is also in love with Elena, who is a doppelgänger of Katherine Pierce (also played by Nina Dobrev), the vampire who turned both brothers into vampires in the nineteenth century. The series also features other inhabitants of the fictional town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, including the witch Bonnie (Katerina Graham), the vampire Caroline (Candice Accola), the werewolf Tyler (Michael Trevino), and other assorted mystical figures. The show, which debuted in 2009, is screened on the CW channel in the US and ITV2 in the UK, and has proved to be hugely popular; the show now 'ranks as CW's most-watched series and is the net's No. 2 show with women 18-34, behind only Gossip Girl'.3 However, despite this success there remains relatively little examination of the show as teen drama, horror and a vampire text.

The vampire has been seen as a liminal figure since it exists between borders and can 'cross back and forth over boundaries', such as 'the living and the dead, the human and the animal'.4 This article argues that Diaries embodies a form of cultural and generic liminality and examines how the series contributes to debates within television studies and scholarship on vampire texts. It considers how issues of quality and cultural value operate in relation to The Vampire Diaries, examining the show's allocation to a cultural hierarchy of contemporary vampire texts and how these are mapped onto imagined audiences. Secondly, the article examines how Diaries is both horror and a teen drama, drawing on tropes from the horror genre and combining them with young adult issues such as parental tensions or romantic relationships. It is also positioned as teen television through industrial practices; screened on the teen-centric CW channel and marketed to the valued demographic of teenage girls.5 Finally, Diaries is further placed within this teen genre by its association with Dawson's Creek, an intertextual link brought about by the involvement of Kevin Williamson with both shows. The article examines whether Williamson's role elevates it to a form of 'quality teen television', considering how Williamson is discussed in review materials surrounding the show and how he himself positions The Vampire Diaries within a hierarchy of contemporary vampire texts.6

'Somewhere inbetween': The Vampire Diaries and cultural hierarchies

The recent successes of True Blood, Twilight, and The Vampire Diaries have 'added to the resonance and intertextual reworking of vampire myths and iconography, whose rich cultural history continues to provide malleable resources for contemporary storytelling'. …