On "Lost," Ian Somerhalder's Boone was so vain that Shannon referred to him as God's Friggin' Gift To Humanity, though more than a couple female viewers were inclined to agree, non-ironically. 
 
On Saturday (March 6) night, Somerhalder took the stage at the William S. Paley Television Festival to the sort of shrieks that normally greet boy band heartthrobs, movie vampires or European soccer players in their nations of origin. He was funny and charming on the Paley Panel and probably generated a quantity of swooning which, for most mere mortals, would have counted as a good night's work.
 
But on Saturday night, God's Friggin' Gift to Humanity appeared to actually be Paul Wesley, Somerhalder's co-star on The CW's "The Vampire Diaries." A veteran of seemingly countless short-lived shows and TV guest spots (mostly as Paul Wasilewski), Wesley received by far the night's loudest ovation before taking his seat. 
 
Then, after the moderator finished his questions and opened things up to the floor, the first person with the microphone was a woman wearing a Team Stefan (Wesley's character) shirt and mentioning, without hesitation, that her twitter handle is @PaulWesleyLover. She'd travelled all the way from North Carolina to attend the PaleyFest event and after getting only a semi-answer to her inquiry regarding whether or not Wesley gets nervous before love scenes ("I'm more nervous now," he replied), she got something better.
 
Paul Wesley jumped down off the stage, gave her a big hug, several kisses on the cheek and posed for a picture. God's Friggin Gift to Humanity, indeed.
 
"I know what the next questions are going to be," cracked Nina Dobrev, who plays Elena and Katherine, two women separated by decades, but consistently stuck between dueling brothers Stefan and Damon.
 
Contrary to Dobrev's expectations, there were no more stage-hopping intimacies for the remainder of the panel, which was highlighted by discussion of Twilight, Twitter and Toplessness.
 
Click through for a full report...
 
There's a tendency to possibly distrust Dobrev, Wesley and Somehalder, because they're three oppressively attractive, solidly successful television stars and they've made a big show of talking about how much they love spending time together. Your instinctive reaction would be to think that it's all some big act and that when they aren't out in public, they probably hate each other. But watching the three do events like this and the Television Critics Association press tour, I'll confess that cynicism aside, they really do appear to get along well together.
 
So yes, there was something a bit too treacly when Wesley declared "Ian's actually one of the most professional actors I've ever worked with." That was followed by Somehalder's "Ditto, my friend" and the two men reaching across the breathtaking Dobrev and holding hands. 
 
But it didn't feel fake, nor did consistent and good-natured banter like Somerhalder's observation, "My makeup takes a lot less time than Paul's does. That's why he's so pretty."
 
Nor did the audience doubt Wesley's "I feel terrible," after hearing Somehalder discuss his own weeks of chiropractic care after an on-screen fight left him with a dislodged rib (or something to that effect). And when Somehalder and Wesley teamed up to chide Dobrev for overpacking and requiring checked luggage even on overnight promotional trips, the chemistry felt palpable, even if I'm not quite ready to buy Atlanta as the sort of non-Hollywood diaspora that would lead to this sort of bonding.
 
["Is that why you sent us to Atlanta?" Wesley asked. "No," responded series co-creator Kevin Willamson truthfully, "Tax rebates.]
 
The panel was, in fact, packed with cute little moments between the stars, whether it was Somerhalder's impression of Dobrev attempting to eat in her tight period corsets ("Is that what I look like?!?" Dobrev asked incredulously), or Wesley's suggestion that they spend so much time together, they might as well just move in together (followed by Dobrev's insistence on getting sufficient closet space).
 
If it seems as if the PaleyFest panel for "The Vampire Diaries" was a little more... let's say "frivolous" than panels for, say, "Lost" or "Dexter," what do you expect? The CW's biggest breakthrough in years doesn't have time travel or complicated philosophical underpinnings, nor has it lasted long enough for the death of a major character to set off a 1500+ audience group therapy session. What "Vampire Diaries" is is one of TV's most enjoyable guilty pleasures and the kind of show that can set off an extended discussion based around the producers' concerns that excessive toplessness from their male leads may come off as, well, gilding the lily. 
 
"I asked and beg and call Julie [Plec] and Kevin all the time, 'Can I please get naked?'" Somerhalder joked.
 
Yes. That line was followed by near-deafening squealing. 
 
"It's gotten to a point, though, where we're like, 'You know what? This is gratuitous. We just don't need to take their shirts off every five seconds.' However..." Williamson teased.
 
Plec added, "Sorry to the audience, but we now spend more time deciding to put a shirt on him."
 
"They decide my shirtless fate," Wesley warned the audience. 
 
Really, though, it was either discuss toplessness, or once again delve into the similarities (and mostly differences) between "The Vampire Diaries" and  those other franchises involving human women and their insatiable lust for vampire men.
 
Williamson recalled his first reaction to being given L.J. Smith's book two years ago.
 
"I read it and I said, 'I don't want to do this. This is 'Twilight.'"
 
He continued, "It was so 'Twilight' and I struggling with the idea of, 'Well, what would I do with this?'"
 
Williamson's answer lay in deciding that "The Vampire Diaries" was just as much about the town as about the undead and human lovers at the center, comparing the universe to "Dark Shadows."
 
"I had to make myself believe that so that I could move forward and I talked myself into it, because I thought 'If I can just get past the pilot,  which is 'Twilight' -- girl meets guy in school -- and if I can get past that, I bet there's a show here that I can add something to," Williamson said.
 
Plec was less reticent about getting into the vampire universe. She's a "Twilight" fan, though Dobrev had to step in and halt one scene in which the dialogue too closely mirrored a conversation from Bella and Edward's world instead of Elena and Stefan's. [Plec, in contrast, doesn't what HBO's "True Blood," which Williamson is a regular viewer.]
 
Being part of this vampire tidal wave actually put more pressure on the producers, though.
 
"This could have just been the straw that broke the vampire's back, this could have just completely ended the 'Twilight' phenomenon," Williamson joked.
 
He also notes, without hesitation, "We're happy to ride the coattails of 'Twilight.'"
 
Really, though, "The Vampire Diaries" has gone off and become its own take on the "Vampirism as metaphor for teen outsiders" genre, even differentiating itself from Smith's novels, which may not rival the "Twilight" series as bestsellers, but which still have a passionate fanbase.
 
"The books still have very, very loyal fans of that franchise and the same way that we were afraid of being compared to 'Twilight,' we were afraid of letting the book fans down," Plec said. "And I think there are probably quite a few out there who sort of said, 'Eh. I don't like the way you guys did that.' But I think more importantly there are so many of the die-hard book fans who have been very, very embracing of the path that we've taken."
 
Added Williamson, "When I was growing up, I was an avid reader and I read everything and I read everything that was adapted into a movie or a TV show. And I always liked the surprises. I liked to see the changes."
 
As zen master Somerhalder put it, "Predictability is what we always live with and the antithesis of that is what makes things exciting... If that makes any sense at all."
 
Whoa.
 
Fans at the PaleyFest panel were treated the show's next original episode, which will air on March 25, following a lengthy hiatus. Fans won't be disappointed. The episode includes new details on Elena's lineage, expanded backstory for Matthew Davis' Alaric Saltzman, guest star Melinda Clarke and a topless and drunk Damon. After having seen that episode, though, there were very few spoilers coming out of the event. There are more flashback episodes coming, but that isn't much of a surprise. It also won't shock anybody that Williamson promises a finale that may include between seven and nine different cliffhangers. "The Vampire Diaries" loves its cliffhangers.
 
Wesley said that Stefan has some secrets that will be revealed, promising "The layers become complex. He's hiding from something by being Stefan and that's going to come out eventually."
 
Perhaps the most interesting teases came after the night's final question, from a kid asking if Elena really has a crush on Damon.
 
"That is the question of the entire series," Plec teased, predicting that Damon will realize he has a crush on Elena long before feelings are realized from the other side.
 
Intriguing.
 
Other highlights from the "Vampire Diaries" PaleyFest panel...
 
*** The "Vampire Diaries" team is out there on Twitter and they're following your tweets. In fact, the writing room in Los Angeles calls a break at 5 p.m. every Thursday to keep up with the tweets coming in from the East Coast airing of the show. Despite that connectivity, though, Plec and Williamson were still a bit surprised that thanks to Twitter, everybody in the theater knew that the writers had been working at a Los Angeles Ihop just the other day. Why Ihop? Well, Plec just requires a restaurant with a good Diet Coke mix and free refills. Now you know.
 
*** Wesley read for Damon before getting Stefan. He had to audition nine or 10 times. In contrast, Dobrev sent in an audition tape from Canada and that tape was past up the line from WBTV to The CW to Les Moonves and she got the part without an in-person audition. The only problem? Nobody told her and she still came down to Los Angeles to do chemistry reads with all of the male contenders, thinking that she was still auditioning herself.
 
*** Somerhalder didn't feel like he did very well in his first audition, but before reading a second time, Williamson told him to think of Damon as being like Cary Grant. Somerhalder explained, "There was a certain sense when you watched these men, when you watch a guy like Cary Grant on screen, you see the effortless fluidity with which he speaks and breathes and moves and you go, 'Ah. Whoa.' They're just carefree and there's something about that that makes you want to watch every single frame."
 
*** The pilot of "Vampire Diaries" featured more rolling fog than any show in recent memory. That has ceased to be the case. It turns out that Williamson isn't a fan of the fog machine, saying "That left with the pilot. You don't see much fog."
 
*** Much credit was given to director and executive producer Marcos Siega for crafting the show's visual style and getting the most out of the production values. Siega, who also directs for "True Blood," was additionally credited with pointing out a scene earlier in the season that had a little too much in common with an episode of the HBO vampire soap that he'd helmed.
 
*** Apparently Paul Wesley has the greatest abs in the world. I'm not sure this is a big thing for me, but the crowd was pleased with the idea and even Somerhalder applauded for Wesley's abs. Dunno.
 
*** One questioner expressed love for Williamson, even though Joey chose Pacey at the end of "Dawson's Creek." Williamson was having none of that. "Joey chose both. Joey and Dawson are forever. In my mind, they are forever. He wrote a show about her. She will live forever. They're together forever. She just has sex with Pacey."
 
*** It's my own personal regret that nobody in the entire panel mentioned Kayla Ewell. I still miss both Vicki and Bad-Ass Vampire Vicki and would welcome any immortal loophole that would get her back onto the show, if only for an episode or two.
 
*** The pre-panel clip from the Paley Center archives was a predictable, but pleasant one: Buffy singing "Going Through the Motions" from "Once More With Feeling." I was a bit surprised there wasn't audible singing along.
 
*** "Glee" got the loudest applause in the pre-panel rundown of this year's PaleyFest shows. I somehow suspect there's a lot of overlap in the "Glee" and "Vampire Diaries" audiences.
 
*** Minor annoyance with a crowd that somehow couldn't figure out the "No Flash Photography" rules, leading to such aggressive policing from security that the talent on the panel had to pause multiple times. Paley events used to include rather rigorous electronic restrictions, but people are now tweeting and recording with impunity. Given just how loose things have otherwise become, you'd think people in the crowd would be better able to cope with not using their flashes, but tonight that was not the case.
 
 
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