On Feb. 8, after eight years and 171 episodes, we called series wrap on “The Vampire Diaries.” As the team and I were going through prep and shoot of the last episode, we realized just how rare our experience was. We hadn’t been canceled; we hadn’t had the plug pulled — we had chosen to say goodbye.
There were at least a dozen times from the moment I hung up with CW president Mark Pedowitz and WBTV chief Peter Roth last June when I second-guessed the choice. My best friend, who loves the show, got legitimately mad at me when I told her the news. The writers were still game to dig into the “bad-pitch party pile” to see if a season nine was achievable. Some of the cast were ready and willing to keep going. Our crew — many of whom had been with us for most of the eight years — would have continued for many more.
So why end it?
Season eight came around, and we faced obstacles: contracts expiring, creative fatigue setting in, romantic-pairing opportunities spent, genre tropes exhausted, live-broadcast ratings low. But still I wasn’t sure it was time to call it. The show thrives on Netflix, with new fans discovering it every day. The people involved, from the network and studio down to each member of the cast and crew, genuinely like and trust each other. Certainly, no one relishes announcing the completion of a job that employs hundreds. (In Atlanta there’s no shortage of work, thankfully — most of the team has already started their next jobs.) I started wondering if we should try to keep the show on the air as a piece of business.
But here’s the thing about making television: It’s a machine. On a bad day, it’s a run- away train. It’s a game of survival. It’s a relentless assault on your sanity, soul, friendships, self-esteem, liver, patience, kindness, faith in humanity, blood pressure, stress levels, personal life, and your ability to parent and care for something, anything, whether a child or a plant. It is fucking hard.
On a good day, there’s that feeling when a story comes together, when the break is on the board, when the draft comes in and you like it, when the tone meeting gives you chills, when the cut is great. And then, even better, when you put it out in the world and people fall in love with it.
As I thought about our options, I reminded myself that, yes, this is a business, and, yes, it is a machine, and, yes, I am a cog in that machine — but it is a machine fueled by art. It makes a statement. Kevin Williamson and I wrote a show about loss and grief that just so happened to have vampires in it. We touched people with that story, and maybe we even helped people. We certainly helped ourselves. This show had left an imprint on my heart. I didn’t want to run it into the ground simply because I was afraid to let it go.
I had seen beloved series that never got to knowingly write their last moment, shoot their last scene, or choose how to say goodbye. A long-running show leaves behind a legacy of storytellers and their relationship with the audience. As a group, we decided to let the story make the decision for us. If the story told us it was time to be done, then we would listen.
About two weeks into the process of breaking season eight, we writers had a collective epiphany: In a season about eternal damnation versus ultimate redemption, the best thing we could do for the characters was bring them closure. They didn’t deserve to stand face to face with the worst evil and come away from it without a deeply personal conclusion to their journeys. “The Vampire Diaries” is a serialized drama. It deserved its final chapter.
With the blessing of Mark and Peter, we got to end every character’s journey the way we wanted to end it. Kevin came back to bring the series full circle. Our crew had eight months to plan for their next job. Our actors got to play their last scenes as the characters they had embodied for an average of 25% of their lives, and we shed tears as we celebrated each final shot. We toasted every set, every prop, every picture car. We held hands when we called the final wrap. We got our closure. And our fans had an entire season to say goodbye. As we brought our business to an end, we all got to be artists and human beings. And it was beautiful.
Writer-producer Julie Plec is co-creator of “The Vampire Diaries” with Kevin Williamson, and creator of the spinoff “The Originals.”