Producers jumped on the success of Desperate Housewives to create a version that would appeal to teenagers, a phenomnenon the world now knows as Pretty Little Liars.
Pretty Little Liars’ third spin-off premieres on HBO Max today (July 28, 2022), featuring a new batch of teen girls who are tormented by an anonymous stalker known as A.
Starring Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Zaria, Malia Pyles, and Maia Reficco, they’re taking over from the original actresses who were propelled to stardom by the eight-season series.
At its core, PLL is a thriller surrounding a murder mystery, but the plot wasn’t anything new when it premiered. In fact, the series follows the exact same formula as a hugely successful show: Desperate Housewives.
Pretty Little Liars is Desperate Housewives 2.0
Desperate Housewives aired from 2004 to 2012 and took the world by storm with its never-ending ominous mysteries every season. Just when viewers thought crimes were solved, another character joined Wisteria Lane to shake things up.
In their search for the next big franchise, Alloy Entertainment – known for The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl – reimagined Desperate Housewives as a teen series, and thus came the birth of Pretty Little Liars.
2000s show Desperate Housewives revolved around four central characters with season 1’s mystery being the unexpected suicide of Mary Alice Young, a housewife on Wisteria Lane.
PLL followed a similar blueprint in that Alison, the leader of the group, goes missing and reunites the estranged friends as they receive messages from A, who threatens to expose their secrets.
“We broke it down a little bit and fundamentally, Desperate Housewives was just a primetime soap with a murder mystery. And it had, at the beginning, an anonymous narrator,” revealed Alloy CEO Leslie Morgenstein to EW.
“So we batted ideas back and forth and we landed on the starting point for Pretty Little Liars, which was four best friends start getting tormented from their fifth best friend who went missing years earlier. And that character became ‘A,’ in the books.”
PLL was based on the author’s own life stages
That’s not to say that PLL ripped off Desperate Housewives; the series is based on Sara Shepard’s books of the same name, with the girls taking inspiration from Shepard’s own upbringing.
Ideas for Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson), a popular teen who previously suffered from an eating disorder, was inspired by Shepard’s own desperation for popularity. To our knowledge, she didn’t have an eating disorder.
As for Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell), the sporty member of the clique, it followed the author’s swimming phase where she found a loyal group of friends. Hopefully, they weren’t as dramatic as the Pretty Little Liars.
Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale) mirrored her “arty phase” when she was begging to escape her little town outside Philidelphia.
Despite their similarities, Shepard has always remained true to Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario), the perfectionist and smart overachiever. There are downsides to that, but clearly it’s done her career well.
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