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With 'Vampire Diaries' and 'Originals,' Julie Plec is queen of CW

The executive producer is is taking a bite out of the CW with three buzzed-about supernatural dramas.

October 20, 2013|By Yvonne Villarreal

It's the sound most have learned to ignore when she's around. Where there is Julie Plec, the co-creator of "The Vampire Diaries," there's a near constant hum — a sort of real-life soundtrack that rivals the intense, forlorn music on the popular CW teen drama.

It's in play at this moment.

The bubbly TV show maker, surrounded by text-loaded whiteboards, is working on an episode of "Vampire Diaries" spinoff "The Originals" at the Hollywood offices of Plec's production company My So-Called Company. As the writing staff throws out ideas about indoctrination criterion for elders (this one pertains to voodoo queen Maria Laveau), the virtual score chimes in: Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Plec, ever so slightly, darts her eyes down to the phone screen, scanning the emails while seamlessly weighing in on the brainstorming. Like the tech-savvy second-screen viewers that tune into her show, Plec is skilled at multi-tasking. An especially useful talent these days.

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She might not have the prestige or reputation of TV power players such as Aaron Sorkin or Matthew Weiner or Steve Levitan, but Plec is a known name among the advertiser-coveted youth. On a network considered the black sheep to its Big Four brethren, Plec has given the CW a tentpole money-making show that, despite its moderate-in-comparison ratings, has hefty numbers when it comes to increasingly important social media.

"The Vampire Diaries" has 16.7 million Facebook "likes" (in line with TV heavyweights like "NCIS," 17.6 million; and "The Walking Dead," 19.7 million). Its fifth-season premiere episode ranked No. 6 in Nielsen Twitter TV ratings with 278,000 tweets.

So it makes sense the network would want to stay in business with Plec.

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"Her talent is on the screen every week," said CW President Mark Pedowitz, who had dealings with Plec during his time at ABC Studios when Plec was executive producer of ABC Family's short-run sci-fi drama, "Kyle XY." "Her word is her bond. And she's tireless with her words."

The 41-year-old producer and writer is the high flier behind three CW shows this season. In addition to being an executive producer of "The Vampire Diaries" and its freshman sister "The Originals," Plec is also an executive producer of sci-fi reboot "The Tomorrow People," alongside Greg Berlanti — a feat she makes light of in her Twitter bio: "Taking over the CW network one night at a time until they find someone better."

Meanwhile, it all accounts for the 53 unread messages, in the span of three hours, that await her reply. "It's a really weird life moment when it dawns on you in a public restroom, 'This is what my life has become: checking e-mails on my iPad while I pee,'" said Plec, who chips at her red nail polish in moments of relative calmness.

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It's easy to think Plec is as superhuman as the characters on the show's she's behind. She flies to Atlanta, where "The Vampire Diaries" and "The Originals" are in production, about every 10 days — she finally got an apartment in the same building as "Vampire Diaries" star Nina Dobrev. And it's standard for her nights to end at 3 a.m. and her days to start at 10 a.m.

"There is nothing passive about Julie," said college pal Berlanti, the man behind the network's other hit, "Arrow." "The day she doesn't respond to a question you have within 10 minutes, is the day you send out a search-and-rescue team."

It's not simply a workaholic complex. Plec likes living in the high-stakes world she helps shape. It's an affinity the bookworm developed at an early age, penning short stories of being a runaway after reading Norma Fox Mazer's "The Solid Gold Kid," about teens who are kidnapped and bond through the experience.

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"The supernatural world, the sci-fi world — they give you scenarios that can truly be life or death," she said. "And that's why these shows work especially well with young people — when you're a teenager everything feels so epic. I like to tell those stories."

Plec, the daughter of parents in the human resources field, bounced between Northern California and Detroit as a kid before settling into Chicago. She moved to Hollywood at 22 with aspirations of being studio executive Sherry Lansing — "I don't know why. I just had read about her and she seemed really bright and cool." One of her first breaks came when she was hired as Wes Craven's assistant as the filmmaker was working on the 1995 Eddie Murphy thriller "Vampire in Brooklyn." It was then that the wide-eyed Plec met Kevin Williamson, who wrote the screenplay for Craven's "Scream" and would later serve as a mentor to Plec and frequent collaborator — they'd team for "The Vampire Diaries."

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