Book publisher Alloy
Entertainment takes its teen literature into TV and
Los Angeles Times
'Sex Drive" the movie, which hits theaters in October,
looks pretty familiar. Teenage male wants to lose his
virginity, embarks on journey to do so. High jinks
Sound like the latest prank boy film from "Superbad"
producer Judd Apatow? Not quite. "Sex Drive" shares a
pedigree familiar to female teens younger than 18
everywhere: The movie is adapted from a book created by
the publisher that also gave them the teen lit faves
"Gossip Girl," "Pretty Little Liars," "Sisterhood of the
Traveling Pants" and "The Clique."
The company, New York-based Alloy Entertainment, is a
book factory similar to the syndicates that created the
Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series decades ago. Editors
cook up ideas they think will appeal to teens and then
hire writers to follow their outlines, similar to the
way dramas and sitcoms are written for TV. Alloy
produces about 30 books a year; six of them last week
were on the New York Times bestseller list.
Alloy is now adapting its formula to Hollywood. This
fall, television network the CW will air a second season
of "Gossip Girl" and launch "Privileged," while ABC
Family will air the three-day miniseries "Samurai Girl"
early next month. All three shows are based on Alloy
The second "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" movie
comes out next week, followed by "Sex Drive" a few
months later. And "The Clique," a made-for-DVD movie
based on a popular Alloy book, appears this fall.
In all, more than a dozen other shows and movies based
on Alloy literary properties are in development.
"We're having a little bit of a run of good luck," said
Bob Levy, Alloy Entertainment's executive vice president
of film and TV development and production.
Well, more than good luck, perhaps. When it comes to
capturing the zeitgeist of female teen angst, Alloy has
developed a successful formula that mixes the drama of
boyfriends with a heavily commodified lifestyle.
Add in the fact that a movie or TV show based on a book
that already has a following gives producers the
advantage of a "pre-sold" concept in vying for audience
attention, and the reasons for Alloy's inroads into
Hollywood become more clear.
Few know the teen market better than Alloy Media &
Marketing, the publicly traded parent company of Alloy
Entertainment. Alloy also owns Channel One, a TV network
shown in schools; Alloy Education, which publishes books
on education; a number of teen-focused websites
including Teen.com and SugarLoot.com; and a teen
marketing agency, Alloy Media & Marketing.
"Alloy has a great finger on the pulse of the youth
market," said Erik Feig, president of worldwide
production and acquisitions at Summit Entertainment,
which financed "Sex Drive."
Summit bought "Sex Drive" immediately upon hearing
Alloy's pitch, Feig said, which he described as a
"modern version" of the guy-meets-girl-and-woos-her
movie. He said Summit figured that since Alloy sells
millions of books to teens, it probably would be good at
developing movies for them too.
Les Morgenstein, president of Alloy Entertainment, said
the next step was to obtain independent financing so
that Alloy could fully own the rights to its properties
while producing them, much as Marvel Entertainment does
by turning its comic book superheroes into franchise
But obtaining financing may not be easy, given the
credit crunch. Studios are finding it harder to obtain
capital that was once readily available from Wall
Alloy's three Los Angeles-based development executives
try to hew closely to the books to retain reader
loyalty. When a set designer for "The Clique" movie
wanted to know the founding date of the school featured
in the book series, Alloy contacted author Lisi Harrison
to ask when she wanted the school to be founded.
Limited experience in entertainment doesn't count as
much as proven track record with a target audience, said
If a writer had pitched a show about a group of rich
kids socializing on New York's Upper East Side, CW
probably wouldn't have been interested, said Thom
Sherman, executive vice president of drama series
development at CW. But since that show was based on the
book series "Gossip Girl," which had already sold 5
million copies, CW executives took notice.
It helped, too, that Alloy had convinced Josh Schwartz
and Stephanie Savage, writers of the teen hit "The OC,"
to be executive producers.
"With TV shows, it's hard to break through the clutter,"
Sherman said. "If it is pre-known by a large group of
people, it helps people publicize it."
"Gossip Girl" attracted 2.7 million viewers in its first
season, becoming a rare hit for the struggling CW.
Thanks in part to the show's popularity, the CW was able
to charge 8% more for ads during prime-time shows in
2008, even as the network curtails its own programming.
"The series explores what it is like to have wish
fulfillment and glamour of a great life," said Peter
Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television. "But what
makes these characters rich and delicious is that they
have every bit as many problems as all of us."
Or at least those teens who can attain a certain
aspirational lifestyle that is the hallmark of an Alloy
story. In the first four pages of "The Clique," for
example, a seventh-grader named Massie kicks off her
"3-inch heels" and mentions that she owns a Mac, wears
Chanel No. 19 perfume and Yves Saint Laurent lipstick,
sleeps on Calvin Klein sheets, shops at Bergdorf Goodman
and stays at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood.
The consumerism draws criticism from some literary
"The book series itself is about commodities -- brands
become a way to identify with the characters," said Amy
Pattee, a professor of library sciences at Simmons
College in Boston. Her students often say they won't
stock some Alloy books when they become librarians,
partly because the novels focus on commercialization.
That's a complaint you won't hear from TV executives --
for what better place to feature luxury brands than on
their networks, where product placement is one of the
fastest-growing segments of advertising? "Gossip Girl"
has already triggered fashion trends, thanks in part to
links to the brands on CW's website.
Said Matt Diamond, founder of Alloy Media & Marketing:
"Between Alloy Entertainment and our properties that
create webisodes [shows created for the Web], DVDs and
movies, the opportunity for us to continue to work with
brands and incorporate them into our various properties
will only continue to increase."