The original log line for "Pretty Little Liars" was "Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret," and executive producer, showrunner and mystery-keeper Marlene King says the show has kept that spirit. The show, adapted from a series of young adult novels, focuses on several high school girls and their friends as more their dark secrets and lies are unraveled — and some disappear without a trace.
"[They have] well-intentioned ideas but continue to, I'd say, go down the rabbit hole and find a lot of trouble every season," King says.
The show has been such a smash for ABC Family that they ordered two more seasons before its fifth even began airing this summer. King calls the show "magic in a bottle," but says its possible to replicate its success. Here are the the three factors that make "Pretty Little Liars" not only a traditional ratings smash, but a great example of modern TV popularity.
It's been on social media since the beginning
People were still talking about TV on Twitter in 2010, but not nearly as much as they do now. But King says fans were tweeting about "Pretty Little Liars" before the pilot even aired.
Social media has only become more important for the show. It has a very active Twitter presence, attracting over 2.4 million followers to the official account, and King says online discussion and ratings go hand-in-hand.
"Everything is changing now that we’re being credited for even our Twitter ratings," King says. "That seems to be as important as how many people are watching the show live, plus DVR. So that keeps us so relevant."
Now, Twitter is so integral to the show that if "Pretty Little Liars" stopped generating so much online discussion, that would be her cue to wrap things up.
Its young audience still watches live
Conventional wisdom says young people are the biggest time-shifters, more likely to binge-watch or even pirate their favorite shows long after they air. Not so for "Pretty Little Liars." The Internet isn't pulling viewers away; the very active online discussion is pushing them to keep up each week.
"I think we are one of the very few shows that has such a young demographic that still has a live following," says King. "Teen girls don’t watch shows on television very much anymore, but they are watching this show live because it is a mystery, we do have these big 'WTF' and 'OMG' moments and we do have this huge social media presence so if you don’t watch it live, somebody is going to spoil it for you online, so I think that helps us."
It has a very passionate and proactive audience
King says when she's asked if its possible to replicate the show's almost-cyclical success, bringing that kind of online following to new projects, she says yes.
Young women under 30 — the main audience of "Pretty Little Liars" — are so passionate, King says. The discussions that often start online spill over into groups and even conventions independent from anything organized by the people behind the show.
"People talk all the time about how social media and the Internet keep us separated but we see the opposite," King says. "It actually gives me goosebumps."