Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Should we be calling the CW’s new series Hart of Dixie — about a fish-out-of water New York doctor (Rachel Bilson as Zoe Hart) who unwillingly relocates to Bluebell, Ala. – Southern Exposure? Following today’s TCA panel on the show, from the creators of Gossip Girl, executive producer Leila Gerstein acknowledged similarities in the doctor-out-of-water story line of CBS’ 1990s series Northern Exposure, about an urban doctor who finds himself doing rounds in Alaska, and the new show. But Gerstein said there would be big differences in story and tone: “It’s belles instead of … well, Alaska,” she said. She added that the show would have a light-hearted, sexy element. “I call it ‘city girl porn,’ she said — meaning that she created the show as a form of TV escapism from her routine own life as an urban mom. Originally conceived as a law show, the character was moved into a medical arena, where she said there were more stories.
Gerstein — co-executive producer with Gossip Girl’s Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Len Goldstein and Donald Todd — would not admit her age except to say, “I’m a lot older than I look,” but said she did not create the show specifically for CW’s target demographic of 18-34. “I’m a mom, I wrote it for myself; I wrote it for my friends,” she said, acknowledging that watching a young, hip cast can appeal to a slightly older crowd (indeed, CW president Mark Pedowitz said in an earlier panel that the average CW viewer is 34-35, not 18). “I created a town that I want to move to, with parades; where people dangle their feet off the porches and sip mint juleps,” she said during the panel. “In my pitch, I said, ‘It’s full of hot fisherman and there’s a great love story,’ so it was created really out of an escapist need that I had.”
The pilot was shot in North Carolina but will move to the WB lot for the rest of the series, which makes its debut Sept 26. Though she is not Southern, Gerstein said there are four Southern writers on the staff and that Southern traditions would be treated with “respect and reference.” A question was asked about the fact that the pilot episode introduced only one black character — a football player — and whether the show would represent a realistic portrait of the racial makeup of the Alabama population. Executive producer Goldstein said that subsequent episodes would feature a more racially diverse cast. The problem with the pilot, he says, was lack of time to introduce the full range of characters. In Episode 2, he said, “everyone is going to see something that is more representative of the town we are envisioning.”
Gerstein, however, said that Hart of Dixie would never be an “issue” show. “Our show is not going to be doing ‘very special episodes,’ ” she said. “Tonally, that’s not the way the show is.”
The producers also said the character portrayed by Nancy Travis, who departed during development for a role in the new ABC comedy Last Man Standing, will not be recast, although other characters may serve the same purpose in the story.
Cast member Scott Porter, a veteran of Friday Night Lights — the canceled NBC/DirecTV series that has received a posthumous Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series — was asked about how his role in that heartland show led him to his part in another Southern drama. “I wasn’t in drama in high school, I never had (formal training), my master class was watching (FNL stars) Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler,” he said. Of FNL, the actor said: “It was weird having the show get a nomination — I felt like it was the same caliber show all the way.”