Freeform’s premiere of its new teen thriller series “Cruel Summer” on Thursday was not like any other Hollywood has experienced during the pandemic. Instead of a virtual or drive-in screening, the network booked 80 rooms at the Beverly Hilton for a balcony screening. Each guest was assigned to their own room in order to watch the screening from a terrace overlooking an inflatable jumbo screen. “This is special,” producer Michelle Purple told Variety. “I’ve seen friends have drive-in premieres, but Freeform got creative.”
Each room was decked out with ’90s nostalgia – including “Friends” posters, concert fliers for Garbage and The Cranberries, vintage Seventeen magazines, scrunchies, inflatable furniture and candy – to match the show’s mid-90s setting.
Before the screening began, the cast of the show were introduced through a speaker system installed on each terrace. Footage of the stars, including Olivia Holt, Chiara Aurelia, Blake Lee, Harley Quinn Smith, Brooklyn Sudano and Allius Barnes, on their balconies was broadcast on the screen via a drone.
Co-producer Jessica Biel remained at home following the birth of her and husband Justin Timberlake’s second child just nine months ago.
The series follows the disappearance of a popular high schooler (Holt) and what happens when another student (Aurelia) is accused of having something to do with it.
Showrunner Tia Napolitano told Variety that the pandemic prevented her from being on the Texas set of the show. “When we started we had a writers room,” she said. “The actors all came in and I met them, but anyone we cast after that I never met them. They went straight to set in Texas.”
While Napolitano said working remotely proved to be successful, there were some memorable hiccups. “I’m a whiteboard girl. I’m really tactile,” she said. “But then when I was writing on the board on zoom, everyone was like, ‘That’s backwards for us.’”
“Cruel Summer” premieres with a two-hour event on Tuesday, April 20 at 9 p.m. After the series premiere, new episodes will air Tuesdays at 10 p.m. and will be available the next day on Hulu.