INTERVIEW: Showrunner Marlene King Previews PRETTY LITTLE LIARS

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS showrunner Marlene King
PRETTY LITTLE LIARS showrunner Marlene King met with We Love Soaps and other media outlets recently to discuss the Winter Premiere of the ABC Family smash hit which returns on Tuesday, January 8 at 8 p.m. ET. Read a transcript of the discussion below.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How have you been so successful leveraging social media to support PLL? How much of that do you attribute to your online presence, which is very strong; and how much to the structure or the content or in other words, just the nature of the show that you created?
Marlene King: I think it’s probably equal to both. I think the fact that the PRETTY LITTLE LIARS started tweeting and social mediaing about the show when we were even at pilot phase sort of started this real grass roots, I would say, almost family, this social media family where from pilot stage our fans felt like they were a part of this PRETTY LITTLE LIARS family.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What would you say would be your advice to other show writers who want to get more out of the Internet?
Marlene King: Just to utilize it and have fun with it. We don’t tweet or Facebook unless we’re having a good time with it so it’s really organic to our process. I would say have fun with it and tweet and Facebook and don’t be afraid to reach out to your fans.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In interviewing the actors of the show I’ve noticed that they like to mention that there’s this incredible attention to detail in the script and possible future plot elements. You don’t know that they’re significant at the time. What’s your process like for planning something like that out, and when you started out (you created the show) how far in the future did you have that mapped out?
Marlene King: I certainly didn’t have the future mapped out for B but we did know what the end game of the series was going to be. What the ultimate reveal will be in the final episode so it’s been really fun just being on this path and this journey to get to that place.

I will give a big shout out to our props department. Chris, who is our prop master does such an amazing job with detail in the show. There are so many props in the show that end up being everything from an ink pen that says, “Doherty’s Landing” and that’s how the girls find out Ali’s clue. Like those things I try to keep as many of those props as I can. My office started to look like a PRETTY LITTLE LIARS museum, but there is so much detail in the show and we have so much fun. The table reads, too like even lines of dialog whenever there’s something—there might be something that, for example there’s something Spencer says in the pilot, and then she says again in the Season 3B finale, and they raise their hand and they scream, “Call back!” They know. They remember all those details too.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Since PRETTY LITTLE LIARS is kind of a juggernaut could you describe any sort of series or projects that you have in the works now for the future?
Marlene King: I’ve been developing a show with ABC Family based on a movie that I wrote called Now and Then, and so we’re really excited down the line to get in to that too.

Which couple will be the most drama-free in the second half of the season.
Marlene King: The most drama-free I’d say no couples are drama-free in the second half of the season.

Which has the least drama?
Marlene King: Which has the least drama? I think it’s equal drama for everyone. No one escapes the drama in Season 3B.

What you can say about Emily and Paige this season because it seems like it’s Emily’s first sort of stable relationship? What kind of drama will she be seeing with Paige and will they ever catch a break?
Marlene King: I think they have some great sort of very grounded drama just sort of what it’s like to be a couple and learning to trust and really sort of because their relationship in some part based on original missteps. They just have sort of real drama and issues to overcome that are just natural to sort of any kind of new relationship like that.

Speaking of relationships I’d love to hear a little bit about what we’re going to see between Mona and Jason this season.
Marlene King: Mona and Jason I think that we will—well, the fun of this premier, which is entitled “She’s Better Now” and we will see Mona outside of Radley. She will need some guardianship back in sort of the Rosewood world, and we might find that Jason takes her under his wing a little bit.

As a follow up with the Paige and Emily storyline, so many people were huge fans of Emily and Maya together, and I think a little bit of the fan base is still trying to get over Maya’s death. How much feedback or how much intake do you take from fans that were huge Maya fans?
Marlene King: Well, we really respect all the fans, and I understand how tragic that loss was to a big group of our fan base, but what I found is that a lot of those people have really embraced now the Emily/Paige storyline. Paige has earned their trust and I’m really proud of that part of our show.

Since we were just talking about Maya there have been a number of deaths on PRETTY LITTLE LIARS at this point. Who for you and the writers was the hardest person to kill off?
Marlene King: Maya was; it was just tragic for us, and so I think that was definitely a very difficult decision to make and really hard to film those scenes too. When the character of Emily realizes that Maya is dead that was just—it was such a powerful evening on set for Shay Mitchell and for Leslie Glatter who was directing that episode (who did the pilot) and for myself. We were all just in tears that day so that was tough.

And I know you probably won’t answer this definitively but is there a risk of more death coming up this season?
Marlene King: Well, maybe.

Lucas has always been a bit more of a complex character to me so I was wondering if his puzzle may come together at all in Season 3B.
Marlene King: We find out some interesting things about Lucas in 3B, and we finally get to see his bedroom so that’s kind of fun.

Caleb wasn’t in the book series yet to me he fits flawlessly in the show. Was it hard to achieve that?
Marlene King: You know every once in a while an actor will just bring something to a role that we really embrace, and we find that character then becomes so organic to what we’re doing. It’s sort of was like the character of Toby too. We didn’t originally set out for him to be so involved in the show but we just loved the work, and we loved watching him so much that he became so much more integral. The same thing has happened with Tyler; what Tyler brings to the role of Caleb. We just had a lot of fun watching this character grow with us, and it’s really easy to write to that.

Well, we’ve talked a little bit about social media and how so many people just love the show, and the girls do such great appearances with Ustream and events. A lot of them have talked about possibly doing like a convention for fans. Is that something that you might have envisioned or think about maybe participating in?
Marlene King: We would love to participate in stuff like that. We’re always working so much that it’s difficult, and I’ve seen online there is some—it’s not some official thing that we’re doing but there’s definitely a PLL convention in France this year. I’m not sure who is going from our show but yeah it feels like the fans love to come together. They come together online so any chance that we can get the fans together in the flesh would be such a great time for everyone and so much fun.

Are there any plans in the works maybe to do a book with just decoding the answers or possibly integrating that in to the show as well?
Marlene King: There is a book out there which I just stumbled upon. It’s a book store that talks about Seasons 1 and 2 but it doesn’t really decode the answers. It just kind of breaks down every episode, but I would love to do that. I think when the series comes to an end is when we would eventually do that because we still have stones that we’ve yet to uncover and mystery beads that we planted have not paid off yet. Our show is so mystery intensive that we could easily go back to something that we saw in Season 1 and make it relevant again in Seasons 4 and 5. No, no secret keys to the mysteries until we’re all done I think.

How will the fact that now Ezra has a child be present in his relationship with Aria this season?
Marlene King: I love the Ezra story in Season 3B coming up. It’s really heartfelt and emotional, and we get to see a side of Ezra that we haven’t seen before, and also I think a side of Aria. I think we really get to watch them go through some real life drama and real life emotion, and they really sort of dig deep in regards to how soulful their connections is.

Are you going to see Spencer change a bit once she finds out about Toby?
Marlene King: Yes. In fact, I directed my first episode this coming season and it’s the third episode, and there’s a lot of just deep, deep emotion that begins with that episode, and then it just carries all throughout the rest of the season. It’s just so powerful and so gut wrenching and Troian Bellisario did such an amazing job for us this year. We’re really excited to share her storyline with the fans.

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS returns January 8
Speaking of keeping secrets, how much is Aria’s father going to be part of what’s coming up?
Marlene King: Oh there’s some real—you know in the Halloween episode, which is the last upset our fans got to see, the character of Garrett reveals on the night that Allison died that he saw Allison arguing with Aria’s dad Byron, and we definitely don’t drop the ball on that. We come back and explore whether or not he was telling the truth and what it means for Aria and what it means for the PRETTY LITTLE LIARS.

Speaking of Garrett - obviously he’s dead so we won’t be seeing him alive again but we will be possibly seeing Garrett again in flashbacks this season?
Marlene King: We don’t see him again in 3B but that does not mean we won’t see him at some point in time in the show.

Ezra’s brother Wesley has been very popular among the fans, at least on our site. I know he’s coming back. Can you give us a little like tease about what he’s going to be doing this season?
Marlene King: He has the same parents that Ezra has and there’s a lot of drama in that family, and he brings some of that drama to Rosewood with him. I think that we definitely get to learn more about the Fitzgerald family dynamic, and he’s a lot of fun. He’s a great young actor, and we’re really happy to have him in Rosewood.

With the mystery elements of the show, how much of that was planned beforehand and how much is that sort of organically developed as you see how certain characters or actors are gelling in their roles?
Marlene King: A great deal of the mystery is planned beforehand. We found that if we don’t know sort of what the end of the mystery story is we don’t do as good a job with the beginning and the middle part. We really try to know where we’re going in addition to like the big overall mystery of the show, who are they and who killed Allison, which are the two mysteries we all—when we have these little sort of mini arcs of mysteries we always know the beginning and the middle and the end before we start. But every once and a while a character will surprise us by bringing something special to that storyline, and we may stretch it out or weave a little bit. Yeah and I think it’s mostly well thought out but every once in a while we have a fantastic surprise of an actor bringing something special to the story, and we’ll integrate that in to the plan.

How popular was the Spencer/Toby relationship? Did you have any second thoughts before revealing that Toby was actually a part of the ‘A’ team?
Marlene King: I wouldn’t say second thoughts but I did have concern about how the fans would react to it, and actually I think the reaction was much more positive than I thought it was going to be. I was afraid there was going to be some backlash of people being devastated, and some people are. But I think the majority of our fans were so thrilled to be completely surprised by that reveal that they allowed us to turn that character dark and get away with it.

Are we going to find out a little bit more about Toby’s motivations in this upcoming season?

Marlene King: Yes we will. We left you with a big reveal there when we found out that Toby was the guy in the black hoodie talking to Mona. We will definitely pick up that story where we left it in the last finale, and I think our fans are really going to have fun with it.

Could you give us a hint of any of the guest stars that will be coming up in the next season?
Marlene King/Pubicity: We have the wonderful Betty Buckley coming back playing Hannah’s grandmother. We are also really thrilled to have—I believe she’s five time gold medalist—Missy Franklin; the swimmer from the London Olympics will be making an appearance

If you could have any guest stars to make an appearance who would some of your top guest stars be?
Marlene King: I think we would love to have some just like fun mystery people on the show. We’ve always thought it would be really fun to have Steven King arrive in Rosewood, and I think that it would definitely be sort of more dark and mysterious people like that.

What made you want to make an ‘A’ team rather than just one person because I’ve always wondered about that?
Marlene King: Well, it just felt like as ‘A’ became more devious and was accomplishing these huge sort of feats that there’s no way just one person could be achieving everything we needed to achieve in terms of how menacing ‘A’ was to the PRETTY LITTLE LIARS.

Did Toby ever really have a part of him that cared for Spencer or even his friendship with Emily for that matter?
Marlene King: Well, I really want to let the fans discover the answer to that question themselves, which you will learn the truth of that in Season 3B.

The men of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS
I’m going to ask the gay question because so much is about Emily on this show, which is fantastic. Where are the gay guys in Rosewood?
Marlene King: Where are the gay guys in Rosewood? It’s a good question. We actually have been talking about revealing that a character we’ve already established on the show might be questioning his sexuality so it’s possible that you’ll be seeing that.

We’ve talked a little bit about Toby, and we’ve pretty much seen family for the majority of the cast for the show and characters, and I wanted to find out if there is a plan to see some of Toby and Jenna’s family?
Marlene King: Yeah. We don’t see Toby’s family in Season 3B but in our very first Halloween episode we learned that Toby’s mother, not his stepmother, but his mother passed away when he was a younger boy. We’re going to learn more about his mother in this upcoming season. It’s really exciting to sort of start that storyline.

When you have family and friends watching the show how do you feel watching them kind of connect the dots with like specific items or different hidden clues like bobble heads and the boots and things like that? Do you take a little bit of pleasure in kind of twisting the knife for them as well?
Marlene King: Oh yeah. I do. I have so many friends who are just dying to know who ‘A’ is and my family as well. My mom watches every episode, and I love to get her feedback, and my children who are a little young to be watching the show (ten and eight) watch every episode too, and they give me the most honest feedback of anyone I know. It’s a lot of fun, and they’ve known some plot twists ahead of our fans and they make friends very quickly with their high school peers who they meet at camp and things like that.

About PRETTY DIRTY SECRETS, how is that coupling in with the show coming back as well?
Marlene King: Definitely. There’s a character we meet in PRETTY DIRTY SECRETS that plays a significant part of 3B. I’ll wait and let you discover who that is once we come back, and there are clues and definitely plot points that we’re seeing in PRETTY DIRTY SECRETS that pay off in Season 3B. If you haven’t seen it yet you should make sure to watch it before the show starts. It is still available on ABCFamily.com.
Marlene King: That’s great. Yeah people should really tune in if they haven’t like seen all those episodes yet. You don’t have to watch it before we premier but it’s really fun to get that extra sort of bonus flavor before the show premieres.

Everybody loves these juicy love triangles so do you think that we might see a love triangle between Aria, and Ezra and his brother, Wesley?
Marlene King: Well, I think that you definitely should watch and decide for yourself if Aria and Wesley have a connection. I think it’s going to be fun for our fans let that unfold as Season 3 progresses.

Could you share a little tidbit from Mortal Instrument?
Marlene King: I did some work on that script and it looks amazing. I’m excited about that cast, and I can’t wait to see the movie along with the fans.

Kevin Mulcahy Jr. is a Harvard alum who is currently working as a staff contributor at welovesoaps.com writing theater and web series reviews as well as other in-depth features. Read all his Web Series reviews here. To contact Kevin, email kevin@welovesoaps.com.

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