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October 4, 2015

TCA Report: CW's 'Ringer' and 'Hart of Dixie' Bring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rachel Bilson Back to Primetime

by Laura Prudom, posted Aug 4th 2011 4:30PM
Rachel Bilson, Sarah Michelle GellarThere's no disputing that 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' changed the face of television (as a reporter pointed out at the Television Critics Association Press Tour Thursday morning, it's the most written-about TV series of all time in academic circles), so the CW knows that it's on to a winner with 'Ringer,' Sarah Michelle Gellar's triumphant return to TV.

But bringing back Sarah Michelle Gellar and 'The O.C.'s' Rachel Bilson ('Hart of Dixie') in the same season might be the one-two punch that The CW needs to land a knockout to primetime and shake off the assumption that it's a network for teenagers who subsist on the frothy fare like '90210' and 'Gossip Girl.' CW president Mark Pedowitz certainly expressed hope that 'Ringer' might attract a wider crowd and a larger demo than their 18-34 niche, while the good-natured 'Hart of Dixie' should appeal to fans of old-school WB programming like 'Gilmore Girls' and 'Everwood'.

Check out our highlights from the two panels after the jump.'Ringer'

Sarah Michelle Gellar makes her primetime return pulling double duty as twin sisters Bridget and Siobhan, the former a recovering alcoholic and sole witness to a professional hit, the latter a wealthy socialite in New York with her own secrets. Siobhan is charmed in many ways -- she's married to businessman Andrew Martin (Ioan Gruffudd) and is carrying on an affair with her best friend's husband Henry (Kristoffer Polaha), and no-one in her life even knows that Bridget exists. Bridget, meanwhile, is on the run, trying to escape the man she was scheduled to testify against, and when Siobhan mysteriously disappears, Bridget believes that simply assuming her sister's identity will mean the end of all her troubles -- when in actuality, they're just beginning.

Gellar's return to TV has been a long time coming, but she had some fairly valid reasons for taking her time: "I think some of you probably know, I was very burnt out after 'Buffy'; I was 18 on the pilot and 24 and married when we finished," she admitted, pointing out that she never really had time to live or travel as a young adult, between 'Buffy's' schedule and her movie projects. She cited living a "nomadic" lifestyle after 'Buffy,' traveling and focusing on movies, and during that period, "I started watching a lot of television -- and I began to realize that all of the amazing roles for women were on television ... I was spoiled by 'Buffy,' I thought that's how it was everywhere [in terms of strong female characters], but it's not." She cited 'Damages' as a great example of a female-driven show that she hoped to emulate in a new role, and admitted, "I think if I hadn't had the time away I wouldn't be able to appreciate the experience I'm having now."

Ringer CastAs Gellar mentioned at Comic-Con, she's enjoying the challenges of playing two characters, but doesn't want to play favorites between the sisters. She mentioned that she's already had some experience playing two (and sometimes four) characters in the space of a day, playing present-day and flashback versions of Bridget and Siobhan and sometimes alternating between the two multiple times over the course of shooting a scene.

Gellar also admitted that being on the CW instead of CBS (where the show was originally set up) was "a relief for us, because we knew we could tell more of the stories we wanted to tell on that network." They had been concerned that they might have to integrate more procedural elements for the CBS audience, despite CBS executives Les Moonves and Nina Tassler championing the show from its inception. "It's hard, CBS has these huge numbers and if you don't hit those numbers [early on], you don't necessarily have the same time to develop a fanbase and hit your stride," she pointed out. "We were questioning, where do we fit in at CBS? whereas we know we fit in at the CW."

On living up to the expectations of 'Buffy' fans: "It's all you can hope for ... when picking a show, I took into consideration who my fans are. Let's face it, we were a midseason replacement on the WB based on a failed movie. If it wasn't for the outpouring of support from fans and journalists, we would've been canceled after 4 episodes. As actors, we have to think about who our fans are and what they want to see too. I do it to entertain the people who want to watch my work."

Ioan Gruffudd on what attracted him to the role of Andrew: "When I read the script, I fell in love with it, it has very cinematic elements to it -- with the best parts of film noir and Hitchcock ... It leaped off the page. When I sat down with Sarah and Eric [Charmelo] and Nicole [Snyder], they pitched this amazing story and this amazing character arc as Andrew, I'm amazed someone saw that potential in me."

Executive producer Eric Charmelo on the sustainability of the show: "When we pitched the series, we had three seasons mapped out. We wanted to play with time and perspective, since that gives you a lot of latitude. When you tell the same story from a different perspective, it's a different story."

On 'Buffy's' legacy: "I'm proud of the show and I'm proud of the work we did and I'm proud of its legacy. When you start a show at a young age you often get stuck -- I didn't have that, Buffy grew; she went to school, she went to college, she essentially became a mother to the slayers. How many times do you get to be a part of something that has a legacy?"

'Hart of Dixie'
Lighthearted 'Hart of Dixie' sees Rachel Bilson as driven, big city doctor Zoe Hart (think a younger, better-dressed Cristina Yang from 'Grey's Anatomy') who moves to small-town Bluebell, Alabama after inheriting a local medical practice. The fish-out-of-water story combines comedy, romance and a little medicine for a charming hour-long sojourn in the country.

Though the series is set in a small southern town in Alabama, the pilot was shot in Wilmington, NC, and the rest of the series will be shot on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles. Despite this, the producers "feel confident" about being able to film on the West Coast. Executive producer Len Goldstein admitted, "We have more of a town there than we did on location ... We're able to manage it much better, we don't have to rent out space, we can create more of a small-town experience [for the cast]. We obviously can't do everything or get all of the shots we might want, but we feel that everything else balances that out." A second unit was recently dispatched to shoot B-roll on location in Alabama, so the producers can slot in relevant shots to add authenticity to the episodes.

The show was originally conceived as a legal drama, but writer Leila Gerstein realized that a medical tone would -- pun unintended -- give the show more heart. There's even a doctor on staff to make sure that the writing would be medically accurate, as well as two writers who originate from the south, in order to get the warm, country tone and mindset right.

Hart of Dixie Cast"I wanted to create the world in my head that is the most ideal, wonderful place I can imagine," she shared. "I created a town that I wanted to move to, where there are parades and people dangle their feet off the porches, where people know each other and take care of each other. It was an escapist need that I had, and Zoe Hart was kind of me in the outsider looking into a new place."

When quizzed about the diversity on the show (Cress Williams of 'Friday Night Lights' is the town's mayor and a former athlete, which some critics found troubling) Goldstein promised that episode two would introduce a larger ensemble of characters that would be "more representative of the town," but they had to cut the wider world from the pilot due to time constraints.

One of the most memorable characters in the pilot, Nancy Travis' motherly medical practice administrator Emmeline Hattenbarger, will have a reduced arc at the beginning of the season before being written off, since her ABC comedy 'Last Man Standing' was picked up to series (although I wouldn't bet on the sitcom lasting very long, based on advanced reviews).

Part of 'Hart of Dixie's' charm was the use of eclectic country music in the pilot, and the producers promise that "music will be a character in the show," and a 'HoD' signature. They plan to use classic, alternative and up-and-coming country artists to add to the ambiance of the show.

Some critics asked whether the show will be tackling real world issues such as the racism that still exists in the south, and the producers admitted that though idealized and whimsical, the show will still be grounded in reality -- there are mentions of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the pilot -- but that they want to establish the tone of the show before trying to address those kinds of issues. "But our show is not going to be doing Very Special Episodes. When we do deal with stuff like that, we'll deal with it within the structure of our show," Gerstein promised.

'Ringer' premieres Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 9PM ET, 'Hart of Dixie' premieres Monday, Sept. 26 at 9PM on the CW.

For more TCA coverage and TV news, follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA

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