Ratings-challenged CW hopes to cash in the success of "The Hunger Games" with "The Selection"
One of the CW's brightest hopes for next season is a show about a young girl in a futuristic, war-torn nation who is chosen by lottery to compete for fame and fortune against a backdrop of hunger and carnage.
Sound familiar? The CW hopes so.
"The Selection" is one of eight pilots the ratings-challenged CW is considering as a fall series; it will make its decisions this spring.
The hope is that "The Selection" might ride the success of "The Hunger Games" the way the network's biggest hit, "The Vampire Diaries," has surfed the "Twilight" phenomenon.
And it's no coincidence that the new series is written and produced by "Vampire Diaries" writers Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain.
All began as young adult novels, and the network acknowledges that "Twilight" and "The Hunger Game" stirred its interest in "The Vampire Diaries" and now "The Selection." But that doesn't make the shows rip-offs.
The "Vampire Diaries" novels predated the "Twilight" books by more than a decade. And the author of the novel "The Selection," the basis for the pilot, remembers jotting down the idea for it before "The Hunger Games" hit bookshelves.
But in the case of both "The Vampire Diaries" and "The Selection," the successful film adaptation of one series of books spawned an interest in a TV version of a different but similar series of novels.
HarperCollins will publish "The Selection," the first book in a planned trilogy, on April 24. Its author, Kiera Cass, says she first wrote down the idea in the summer of 2008 – soon before the first book in Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy was published.
Though she developed her ideas independently, she recognized that the success of Collins' series could help her sell her story, she said.
"I totally see how it lines up with 'The Hunger Games' — there’s a lottery aspect, a competition, it’s in the future — and when we went to pitch it to editors, that’s how my agent and I described it: 'The Hunger Games' meets 'The Bachelor,'" Cass told TheWrap. "I don’t think we expected that label to stick. But it kind of works. It’s a lot lighter than 'The Hunger Games' though, so if that’s something people are looking for, then they might really enjoy my book."
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Or the show. Craft and Fain's pilot script makes no bones about its similarities to "The Hunger Games." A mention of the franchise appears on the first page of a recent draft, which also explains the rigid caste system in Cass' imagined land of Illea: "As in THE HUNGER GAMES," the script reads, "this future is harsh but lush."
But perhaps not as harsh as the one in "The Hunger Games." As Cass notes, her book has a lighter tone. Its lead character, the immediately likeable America Singer, has to compete with 34 other girls for the affections of a prince in a competition held in his castle. The book's cover shows her trying on a beautiful dress.
Like Katniss Everdeen of "the Hunger Games," portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence on film, America is lucky enough to be played by an actress who can mix toughness and vulnerability. Aimee Teegarden's casting in the lead role should win "The Selection" at least some critical goodwill, if the series makes it to air, given her turn on the widely acclaimed "Friday Night Lights." Ethan Peck, grandson of Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck, has been cast as the prince.
The girlier elements of "The Hunger Games" – Katniss undergoing a makeover to try to win popular support and finding herself torn between two brave, sensitive boys – are almost lost amid the surprising bloodshed. "The Selection" focuses more on its Cinderella story. It has its violence, though America isn't dishing it out, Katniss-style: The kingdom where she competes to win over Prince Maxon is under attack by rebels.
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That lighter touch may help "The Selection" score with the CW's target audience, women 18-34, after a rough season for the network. Almost every returning drama is either down or flat in the ratings, both in the 18-34 demographic and the 18-49 demo most prized by advertisers. (The only returning show that is up, "One Tree Hill," has aired its last episode.)
"The Vampire Diaries," the network's biggest series, is hanging tough in both demos, neither gaining not losing viewers. It averages a 1.3 rating in the 18-49 demo, a number that would be considered weak on any of the four biggest broadcasters.
This season's new shows – "Ringer," "Hart of Dixie" and "The Secret Circle" – have earned unimpressive numbers.
But "The Selection" isn't the CW's only hope for next season. "The Carrie Diaries," a prequel to "Sex and the City," may have a built-in audience thanks to that book-turned-show-turned-film franchise's popularity. "Arrow" hopes to repeat the long run of "Smallville" by following another DC Comics superhero, Green Arrow. And "Beauty and the Beast" stars "Smallville" actress Kristin Kreuk as the prettier half of the duo.
As dueling "Beauty and the Beast" projects show, a story need not be startlingly original to appeal to TV executives or audiences. CW's "Beauty and the Beast" updates the '80s CBS show of the same name. ABC has the pilot for the other "Beauty and the Beast."
All of the "Beauty and the Beast" shows are based on a fairy tale that is at least 270 years old.