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Book publisher Alloy Entertainment takes its teen literature into TV and movies

 

Alana Semuels

Los Angeles Times

August 2, 2008


'Sex Drive" the movie, which hits theaters in October, looks pretty familiar. Teenage male wants to lose his virginity, embarks on journey to do so. High jinks ensue.

Sound like the latest prank boy film from "Superbad" producer Judd Apatow? Not quite. "Sex Drive" shares a pedigree familiar to female teens younger than 18 everywhere: The movie is adapted from a book created by the publisher that also gave them the teen lit faves "Gossip Girl," "Pretty Little Liars," "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and "The Clique."

The company, New York-based Alloy Entertainment, is a book factory similar to the syndicates that created the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series decades ago. Editors cook up ideas they think will appeal to teens and then hire writers to follow their outlines, similar to the way dramas and sitcoms are written for TV. Alloy produces about 30 books a year; six of them last week were on the New York Times bestseller list.

Alloy is now adapting its formula to Hollywood. This fall, television network the CW will air a second season of "Gossip Girl" and launch "Privileged," while ABC Family will air the three-day miniseries "Samurai Girl" early next month. All three shows are based on Alloy books.

The second "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" movie comes out next week, followed by "Sex Drive" a few months later. And "The Clique," a made-for-DVD movie based on a popular Alloy book, appears this fall.

In all, more than a dozen other shows and movies based on Alloy literary properties are in development.

"We're having a little bit of a run of good luck," said Bob Levy, Alloy Entertainment's executive vice president of film and TV development and production.

Well, more than good luck, perhaps. When it comes to capturing the zeitgeist of female teen angst, Alloy has developed a successful formula that mixes the drama of boyfriends with a heavily commodified lifestyle.

Add in the fact that a movie or TV show based on a book that already has a following gives producers the advantage of a "pre-sold" concept in vying for audience attention, and the reasons for Alloy's inroads into Hollywood become more clear.

Few know the teen market better than Alloy Media & Marketing, the publicly traded parent company of Alloy Entertainment. Alloy also owns Channel One, a TV network shown in schools; Alloy Education, which publishes books on education; a number of teen-focused websites including Teen.com and SugarLoot.com; and a teen marketing agency, Alloy Media & Marketing.

"Alloy has a great finger on the pulse of the youth market," said Erik Feig, president of worldwide production and acquisitions at Summit Entertainment, which financed "Sex Drive."

Summit bought "Sex Drive" immediately upon hearing Alloy's pitch, Feig said, which he described as a "modern version" of the guy-meets-girl-and-woos-her movie. He said Summit figured that since Alloy sells millions of books to teens, it probably would be good at developing movies for them too.

Les Morgenstein, president of Alloy Entertainment, said the next step was to obtain independent financing so that Alloy could fully own the rights to its properties while producing them, much as Marvel Entertainment does by turning its comic book superheroes into franchise movies.

But obtaining financing may not be easy, given the credit crunch. Studios are finding it harder to obtain capital that was once readily available from Wall Street.

Alloy's three Los Angeles-based development executives try to hew closely to the books to retain reader loyalty. When a set designer for "The Clique" movie wanted to know the founding date of the school featured in the book series, Alloy contacted author Lisi Harrison to ask when she wanted the school to be founded.

Limited experience in entertainment doesn't count as much as proven track record with a target audience, said Hollywood executives.

If a writer had pitched a show about a group of rich kids socializing on New York's Upper East Side, CW probably wouldn't have been interested, said Thom Sherman, executive vice president of drama series development at CW. But since that show was based on the book series "Gossip Girl," which had already sold 5 million copies, CW executives took notice.

It helped, too, that Alloy had convinced Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, writers of the teen hit "The OC," to be executive producers.

"With TV shows, it's hard to break through the clutter," Sherman said. "If it is pre-known by a large group of people, it helps people publicize it."

"Gossip Girl" attracted 2.7 million viewers in its first season, becoming a rare hit for the struggling CW. Thanks in part to the show's popularity, the CW was able to charge 8% more for ads during prime-time shows in 2008, even as the network curtails its own programming.

"The series explores what it is like to have wish fulfillment and glamour of a great life," said Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television. "But what makes these characters rich and delicious is that they have every bit as many problems as all of us."

Or at least those teens who can attain a certain aspirational lifestyle that is the hallmark of an Alloy story. In the first four pages of "The Clique," for example, a seventh-grader named Massie kicks off her "3-inch heels" and mentions that she owns a Mac, wears Chanel No. 19 perfume and Yves Saint Laurent lipstick, sleeps on Calvin Klein sheets, shops at Bergdorf Goodman and stays at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood.

The consumerism draws criticism from some literary guardians.

"The book series itself is about commodities -- brands become a way to identify with the characters," said Amy Pattee, a professor of library sciences at Simmons College in Boston. Her students often say they won't stock some Alloy books when they become librarians, partly because the novels focus on commercialization.

That's a complaint you won't hear from TV executives -- for what better place to feature luxury brands than on their networks, where product placement is one of the fastest-growing segments of advertising? "Gossip Girl" has already triggered fashion trends, thanks in part to links to the brands on CW's website.

Said Matt Diamond, founder of Alloy Media & Marketing: "Between Alloy Entertainment and our properties that create webisodes [shows created for the Web], DVDs and movies, the opportunity for us to continue to work with brands and incorporate them into our various properties will only continue to increase."
 

 

 

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