Kevin Williamson, executive producer of The CW's new series The Vampire Diaries, loves being scared. “Ever since I was a little kid, I always liked scary movies,” he says. “It's always been my favorite genre.”
His love of frightening films and the screen itself took him from being scared on his couch in his North Carolina childhood home all the way to Hollywood. “I grew up sleeping in front of the TV. I've always wanted to make TV and film,” he remembers. “I always wanted to live in a fantasy world.”
After spending some time in New York after college, Williamson eventually relocated to Los Angeles to work as an assistant and line producer on various projects. His big break came when he sold his script for teen horror flick Scream, which hit theaters in 1996.
“The script for Scream changed my life because I think that's when the doors really opened for me,” he says. “I got to meet a lot of people who took me seriously for the first time.”
Around that period, Williamson pitched his concept for a teen drama based on his life growing up to a network that was not even in its own adolescence, The WB. “I love the teen experience,” he says. “There is something very potent about teen drama in the sense that everyone is dealing with their first love.”
His pitch became the hit coming-of-age soap Dawson's Creek, which aired on The WB from 1998-2003, launching Williamson's TV career and those of actors Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson. Dawson's quickly became a ratings powerhouse, putting The WB on the map and setting the template for the network's future teen-targeted programming with shows such as Felicity and Charmed.
According to Williamson, Vampire Diaries marks the first project since Dawson's where he has felt that sort of magic. “This show is kind of blessed,” he says.
Diaries became the most-watched show on the network's schedule right off the bat, beating veteran hits America's Next Top Model and Gossip Girl. The Sept. 10 debut drew 4.91 million viewers, making it the most-watched series premiere ever on The CW. It also earned record ratings for the network's target demo, women 18-34, in the 8 p.m. time slot with a 3.1/10. The show is currently averaging 3.9 million viewers and has successfully maintained its audience since its second week, when it began competing with CBS' Survivor and ABC's hyped freshman drama FlashForward.
Williamson attributes much of the show's magic thus far to the cast and his working relationship with The CW, which was formed out of the merger of The WB and UPN in 2006.
“The CW is very intimate,” Williamson says. “You get to call people up, and they answer the phone and you get direct answers.”
Dawn Ostroff, president of entertainment at The CW, jumped at the chance to collaborate with Williamson on what could turn out to be another signature show for a young network. “He has tremendous creative vision and a talent for developing multilayered characters who jump off the screen,” she says.
Although the vampire genre shows few signs of cooling, Williamson remains realistic about how far the craze will take his series. “I am excited about the next season of [HBO's] True Blood, and if a lot of people feel that way about our show, I think we have a couple more years,” he says.
Williamson continues to shuttle between film and TV, but the immediacy and frantic pace of the small screen appear to suit him. “Everyone is always behind, and I think the quality control is the first thing to go out the window,” he says. “You can always do better, yet there's no time.”
But he says he'll do anything to get the job done, and appears to thrive on doing what it takes: “I will sleep in the office. I'll write around the clock.”
His dedication goes noticed at Warner Bros., the studio that produces Diaries. Says Warner Bros. TV President Peter Roth: “His [drive] for excellence is [surpassed by] almost nobody I have ever worked with.”