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The Untold Truth Of The Vampire Diaries

If you loved vampires in the late '00s, chances are you were hooked on "The Vampire Diaries." The series tells the story of Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev), a high schooler in turmoil after her parents' deaths, and vampire brothers Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) who fall in love with her. The series takes place in the fictional town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, and includes a dash of Civil War historical fiction during its many flashbacks. Rounding out the regular characters are Elena's witch friend Bonnie (Kat Graham), blonde popular girl turned vampire Caroline (Candice King), Elena's younger brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), and human nice guy Matt Donovan (Zack Roerig). 

Over the course of eight seasons, "The Vampire Diaries" features romance, love triangles, old-as-heck vampires pretending to be teenagers, and the drinking of literal gallons of blood. The show premiered right at the height of the 2000s' vampire craze when the "Twilight" movies and "True Blood" series were fresh in people's minds. Could audiences stand more vampires? As it turned out, they absolutely could. But making this idea into a hit was a journey. Here's the untold truth of "The Vampire Diaries."

The background of the books

"The Vampire Diaries" is based on a series of teen horror novels written by Lisa Jane "L.J." Smith. It began in 1991 with "The Awakening," introducing Elena, Stefan, Damon, Matt, werewolf Tyler, Bonnie, Caroline, and Meredith, a character who didn't make it into the TV adaptation. The second book in the series, "The Struggle," introduces Alaric Saltzman, the history teacher turned vampire hunter. The third part, "The Fury," turns Elena into a vampire and brings in Katherine, the Salvatore brothers' first love. The original trilogy was such a hit that Smith added a fourth book in the first series — 1992's "Dark Reunion." This finale brings in Klaus, the original vampire often referred to as the "old one," and wraps up the story.

Once the TV series premiered in 2009, renewed interest in the original books inspired a continuation of the series. "The Return" trilogy features 2009's "Nightfall," 2010's "Shadow Souls," and 2011's "Midnight." The new saga tells the tale of Japanese fox demons kidnapping Damon and a trip to the "dark dimension." A third trilogy called "The Hunters" was written by a ghostwriter and came out in 2011 and 2012. These novels focus on Alaric's hunting history, and find new ways of putting Damon, Stefan, and Elena in peril. A final trilogy called "Salvation" arrived in 2013 and 2014. Written by Aubrey Clark, these books find Damon and Katherine romping through Europe while Stefan and Elena stay home. There's a lot to read if you're still feeling the "TVD" itch.

The creation of the series

In 2009, the "Twilight" novels had already taken the world by storm and half the series had already been adapted into a movie franchise. Was the entertainment landscape tired of vampires? Series creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec decided to take a leap and develop Smith's novels into a TV series. Plec had a background in co-producing some of the "Scream" movies and the sci-fi series "Kyle XY," so her prowess in horror and supernatural storytelling was obviously beneficial. Even though he put his name on the map by writing the first "Scream" film, by the late '00s, Williamson had become slightly more famous for masterminding the teen drama "Dawson's Creek." 

Williamson was reluctant to dive into the vampire trend but began reading Smith's books at the urging of Plec, who thought the idea would make for a good series, The Independent reports. "In the beginning when I read it, I didn't want to be involved with it because I felt it was a sort of 'Twilight' rip-off, no matter which came first," he said. "The premise was exactly the same: girl falls in love with vampire, and I felt that it had been done and that nobody was going to do another vampire story. But then Julie [Plec] kept telling me to keep reading the books and then I began to realize that it was a story about a small town, about that town's underbelly and about what lurks under the surface." 

Finding Elena Gilbert

In Smith's books, Elena Gilbert is described as having blonde hair and blue eyes, and the network originally wanted Ashlee Simpson for the role. Some fans of the novels were a little confused by the casting of Nina Dobrev, a brunette with dark eyes. But for Elena, "Kevin specifically told me that the angle we wanted to go for was the relatable, nice, girl next door who the audience roots for. So he made a conscious decision to change that," Dobrev told PopSugar.

But Dobrev wasn't a shoe-in for Elena either; apparently, she bombed her first audition because she was sick. "The funniest story about the first impression of Nina is that she didn't make an impression. None of us remembered seeing her for the first time," Plec told Entertainment Weekly. "And then she, through her agents and the casting directors, said, 'Hey, listen—I was sick that day, I didn't do my best work, I really really want this part.' [She] put herself on tape, which then got sent to us and it was so magical and so perfect that she basically had the job from that minute forward." The next step was chemistry reads with the many young men who came in to audition for Stefan and Damon. 

Finding Stefan Salvatore

Finding the right actor to play Elena Gilbert's first love interest, Stefan Salvatore, proved difficult for Plec and Williamson. Paul Wesley initially auditioned for the role of Damon, but ultimately came back to audition over and over again in a hilarious audition whirlwind that had him try out over 15 times, according to stories from Plec, Williamson, and Wesley in Entertainment Weekly. "It was one of those auditions that everyone was vying for ... And they wouldn't see me for Stefan because they thought I was too old," Wesley said. "So I went in and read for Damon and had a callback and did okay. Then I didn't hear anything and went on with my life."

But the team was having a hard time finding their Stefan, Plec said, adding that, "It's the kind of role that you can't just cast the smoldering pretty boy because there's such depth and layers of loss and loneliness living in that character."  Wesley was brought back in over and over again. "Paul came in like 100 times and every time he came in we'd be like, 'Alright, here's Paul Wesley again.' I liked him; I just didn't love him. And only once we found Nina and put them together did I go, 'Oh he's really good, who is that? It's the guy we passed on 15 times,'" Williamson said. 

Finding Damon Salvatore

Finding bad boy Damon Salvatore was comparatively easier for the showrunners. In fact, Kevin Williamson even threatened to leave the show if they didn't cast Ian Somerhalder, even though he had a horrible audition. As the story goes, Somerhalder was coming off of the mega hit sci-fi drama "Lost" when the role of Damon on 'The Vampire Diaries" came his way. At first, he didn't want to do another network show, he told Entertainment Weekly. "They sent me this pilot and I was like, this is 'Twilight' on TV, I have no interest in doing this." But once he got around to reading the script, he thought, "This is an amazing piece of material; what the hell am I thinking?"  Somerhalder drove all night from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to audition and ... totally bombed it.

"I think he was nervous and his headspace was somewhere else and he just didn't really do a good job," Williamson said. But he had seen Somerhalder on "Lost" and knew his abilities so well that he went to bat for the actor against the studio. "It was the only time in my career where I said, 'If he doesn't get the part, I'm going to have to leave the show ... this role is Ian, and I think I can write for him in a way in which I cannot write for this other guy. Please trust me on this.'" Thankfully they did.

Changing things up from the books

Naturally, there were plenty of changes made between the book series and The CW's version of "The Vampire Diaries." The first thing to go was Damon's ability to travel around as a crow. "Damon traveled in the form of a bird in the pilot, because he was the crow in the book. We went, 'Nah, we can't have him turn into animals so we're just going to skip that part of the book.'" Williamson told Entertainment Weekly. Another big change was the renaming of the book's Virginia town of Fell's Church to Mystic Falls. "No disrespect to Fell's Church, but it felt very based in religion and spirituality, and we knew we didn't want the show to be the kind of vampire show that's just about heaven and hell and demons and the devil and God — that kind of thing," Plec told The Hollywood Reporter.

Other changes came about during the series such as the phasing out of Elena's journal entries despite their significance to the title of the show, changing the Salvatore brothers from Renaissance Era Italians to Civil War Era Americans, and the general abandonment of many of the other supernatural beings and locations that appear in the books but are made difficult to summon by the constraints of a TV series budget. 

Changing a few characters around as well

In the books, Elena has a younger sister named Margaret who is 4 years old. Assuming the creators didn't want to have to deal with a 4-year-old girl aging over the course of many seasons or showing a young child in dangerous situations, Margaret was changed to Jeremy, Elena's slightly younger brother, played by Steven R. McQueen. Jeremy eventually becomes a vampire hunter, which doesn't bode well for his relationship with his vampire sister. Another change is that their Aunt Jenna is named Judith in the books. 

In the books, Elena's best friends are Caroline, Bonnie, and Meredith. The latter was cut from "The Vampire Diaries" TV adaptation because there were just too many people. "We actually wrote a draft in the [pilot] script where the character, Meredith, was in the pilot," Plec told The Hollywood Reporter. "But it just felt like too many characters to service."  

Creating Katerina Petrova

Elena Gilbert's resemblance to their vampire sire Katherine is what initially drew the Salvatore brothers to fall for Elena to begin with. In the books, the Renaissance Era vampire is named Katherine von Swartzschild and she hails from Germany. But for the series, Nina Dobrev was able to use her own Bulgarian roots to transform Katherine into Katerina Petrova. Katherine's German nationality was changed to Bulgarian so that Dobrev could use her fluency in the language to enhance the character's realism. Indeed, Dobrev's full name is Nikolina Konstantinova Dobreva and she was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, before moving with her family to Canada when she was 2 years old.

According to Plec, the show-running duo "had not decided that Katherine and Elena would be played by the same actress until we really started breaking that story," according to an interview she provided to Entertainment Weekly. "We had to decide in the pilot what the picture was going to look like that Stefan pulled out. Because in the books, all they ever said was, 'She bears a striking resemblance to Elena.' And so it wasn't really very clear just how striking that resemblance was. So we thought, 'Let's just go for it.' And then from that, the whole doppelgänger idea was born."

The Originals spinoff

Original vampires Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan) first appear on "The Vampire Diaries" in Season 2 as serious threats to Stefan Salvatore and Elena Gilbert. Then they hang around Mystic Falls until the Season 4 episode called "The Originals," which serves as a backdoor pilot for the spinoff series appropriately titled, "The Originals." Set in New Orleans, the spinoff focuses on Klaus, Elijah, their sister Rebekah (Claire Holt), supernatural community protector Marcel (Charles Michael Davis), and Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin) the werewolf woman who is pregnant with Klaus' hybrid baby.

Williamson and Plec wanted to make a "TVD" spinoff ever since Klaus first appeared in Season 2. "The Originals" offered an opportunity to write more adult storylines compared to "TVD" where characters like Elena, Bonnie, and Caroline are still in high school. "The flagship series is a 'coming-of-age story'" Plec told The Hollywood Reporter, while with "this show we get to tell the story of a dynasty. We get to be bold and thrilling and sexy and dangerous."

The departure of Nina (and Elena and Katherine and Amara and Tatia)

Despite being the star of "The Vampire Diaries" for six years, Nina Dobrev eventually wanted to leave the series once her contract was up. Over the years, Dobrev had not only played Elena and Katerina, but the doppelgängers Amara and Tatia as well. But Dobrev wanted to move on; sticking around for only six years "was the plan from the get-go," she told Harper's Bazaar. "If anything, the fact that [leaving] terrified me drove me even more. I needed to feel that fear of, 'Oh my God, what if I never get a job again?' That just made me want to work five times as hard."

In another interview with Entertainment Weekly, Dobrev elaborated, "This is a show about vampires, but ultimately, I'm a human and I have to go live my human life now. Six years is a very long, great, great time. We did more than 100 episodes, which is in my eyes considered a huge success." Plec added, "I've been getting a lot of heat about [why we're not just ending the show], but it never occurred to us...losing the character from the show actually creates a tremendous amount of emotional opportunity and story for all these other characters that we love just as much." So what did they do next?

Wrapping it all up

With Dobrev's departure at the end of Season 6, the showrunners had to attempt to figure out an ending of "The Vampire Diaries" that would make every fan happy — which everyone knows is an impossible task with a series like "TVD," but it's still important to try. Since making the big character change in Elena that she eventually falls for Damon, which doesn't happen in the book series, wrapping up the love triangle in a satisfying way became a priority. Williamson said he always thought Elena would end up with Stefan. "I always thought it would be Stefan and Elena," he told Deadline. They were sort of the anchor of the show, but because we lost Elena in Season 6, we couldn't go back."

Then, according to Teen Vogue, Plec had the idea that both brothers should die. "Back in Season 2...we said to ourselves: When all is said and done, when this show is over, both brothers should die in the name of saving their girl and then be watching her like ghosts ... as she went off into the sunset to live her life and maybe marry Matt Donovan or maybe become a doctor, but that those brothers would be side-by-side watching her live." 

But Stefan and human Elena were soulmates while vampire Elena was meant for Damon in the end. 

Broken records and episode homages

There's no denying that "The Vampire Diaries" was an absolute hit. Over the course of its eight seasons, it broke a number of records. The pilot episode that aired on September 10, 2009, brought in 5.7 million viewers, the highest rated CW premiere at the time. The eight seasons of "TVD" also broke the record for the longest-running vampire series, beating out "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "True Blood," which both ran for seven. And unlike other series where stars fight over top pay or billing, BuzzFeed reports that Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder all worked together to make the same amount of money per episode. 

In other random "TVD" trivia, if you go back and check out the episode titles in Season 6, you'll notice many of them are popular '90s songs like "Yellow Ledbetter" or "Black Hole Sun," in an homage to the fact that Bonnie was trapped in the '90s for a good chunk of episodes. The Season 8 episode titles are homages to Season 1's most memorable lines, such as "Today Will Be Different," and "You Decided I was Worth Saving." Even Damon's last word in the series mirror his first line: "Hello brother."

Real life love triangles

With so many attractive people on the set of 'The Vampire Diaries" over the course of eight seasons, it's no wonder that many cast members fell for each other. The most famous "TVD" relationship was probably the one between Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder, which lasted for three years. Paul Wesley dated and then married and then divorced Torrey DeVitto who played Meredith Fell on the show. Their split caused a little bit of a drama when Wesley started dating Phoebe Tonkin who played werewolf Hayley on "TVD" and then "The Originals." They eventually broke up, and as of 2022, Wesley is married to Ines de Ramon; Somerhalder is married to "Twilight" actor Nikki Reed, and Dobrev is currently dating snowboarder Shaun White. Speaking of 'The Originals," Joseph Morgan married Persia White who played Bonnie's mom Abbey, while Candice King dated both Zach Roerig and Steven R. McQueen. There was a lot of love going around on "The Vampire Diaries."

Supernatural spinoffs and sequels

"The Vampire Diaries" spinoff "The Originals" ran for five seasons from 2013 to 2018, but it wasn't the only spinoff born of "TVD." In 2018, The CW premiered "Legacies," which follows Hope Mikaelson, the child of Hayley and Klaus whose existence made up so much of the drama during the early seasons of "The Originals." Now 17 years old, Hope, played by Danielle Rose Russell, attends the Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted, the boarding school started by Alaric Saltzman and Caroline Forbes at the end of "TVD." Also in attendance at the school are Josie and Lizzie, Alaric and Caroline's twins born during the events of "TVD." Over the course of four seasons, Alaric is a lead character while the show has guest appearances from Jeremy Gilbert, Caroline, Klaus, Rebekah, and Matt Donovan from "TVD."  In May of 2022 it was announced that the fourth season of "Legacies" was the show's last.

As for more? Plec says absolutely. She told Entertainment Weekly that it "exists in our brains, but not on the page yet ... There will be another one. We're a little sad, we're going to take a beat, but yeah, there's more ideas. There's more to do." Looks like Williamson was wrong. Vampires are definitely not over.