By KATHRYN SHATTUCK New York Times
CARTER COVINGTON, then 26, had a lingering nostalgia for high school when “10 Things I Hate About You,” the director Gil Junger’s spin on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” arrived in theaters in 1999. It immediately became one of Mr. Covington’s favorite films.
In his first major role Heath Ledger played Patrick Verona, a Padua High School outcast. He’s paid by a new kid, Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), to seduce Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), the sour older sister of Cameron’s beloved, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), who isn’t allowed to date until her sibling does.
Flash forward to 2007, when Mr. Junger was directing some episodes Mr. Covington had written for “Greek,” on ABC Family. Mr. Covington’s natural curiosity about “10 Things” began bubbling up, he said, and soon the men “started percolating this idea.”
The result: “10 Things I Hate About You,” the television series, which is to have its premiere July 7 on ABC Family. Lindsey Shaw plays Kat, Meaghan Martin is Bianca, Nicholas Braun is Cameron and Ethan Peck, a grandson of Gregory, is Patrick. There’s also DNA from the film, with Larry Miller reprising his role as Kat and Bianca’s father, Mr. Junger directing the pilot and Richard Gibbs composing the music.
“I like to say that we’re reimagining the movie, we’re not reinventing,” said Mr. Covington, now 36, who developed the series and serves as a writer and executive producer. “ABC Family respects the fact that writers have voices, and they really encourage them to express themselves. If I were Shakespeare, it would be my Globe Theater.” In excerpts from a recent interview, Mr. Covington talks with Kathryn Shattuck about coming of age.
Q. Why bring the movie to television?
A. I grew up on John Hughes movies. I was that kid who was completely hooked on “16 Candles” and “Pretty in Pink.” That whole Brat Pack era for those kids really resonated with me, and I thought that what he did well was tell these stories based on universal archetypes that anyone could relate to. And “10 Things” really tapped into that same sort of emotional resonance — that humor, that lightheartedness, but that grounding in the reality of what it’s like to be a teenager.
Q. How do you keep the story fresh for television?
A. I decided in the beginning that there’s enough distance between Shakespeare and us that we can free ourselves of some of the things Shakespeare dictated to the movie. For Patrick, I wanted to remove the element of Cameron paying him to date Kat. I really wanted Kat to be an interesting enough character that Patrick would be intrigued by her regardless of money. Kat is actually the character that I’m most excited about writing. She’s a unique female teen voice in a world of “Gossip Girl” and “90210.”
Q. What about your high school days?
A. I grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C. Actually went to R J Reynolds High School. In fact about 10 years before I started high school, kids could smoke in class. I was that guy who could sort of float between groups but never fully was grounded in any of them. I am an openly gay male now, but I was in the closet, so that also colored my experience, this idea that I think everyone feels — that you’re not quite yourself yet, but you have all these ideas of who you want to be, and you’re constantly trying on new identities or trying to get people to see you the way you want to be seen.
Q. How do you introduce Shakespeare into a contemporary series?
A. It’s probably the thing that I’m most unsure about, to be quite honest. It’s a fine line between putting in enough references that people who respond to those sorts of things feel rewarded, but not putting so much in that it takes you out of the show.
Q. Why does “The Taming of the Shrew” have such staying power?
A. I think it’s that sort of Sam and Diane relationship you saw in “Cheers” — the combativeness of attraction. It’s these two characters who probably would never be friends in real life, but they have this chemistry that draws them to each other. These charged romances help you storywise because it enables you to not have to get them together so fast.
Q. How do you tease people without turning them off?
A. You just asked the central question to everything. It is such a balancing act. What we are trying to do in the first 10 episodes is build the foundation for an epic romance. People have to buy into that, to be invested enough to want to watch the twists and turns. I’m sure we’ll have to use some of the devices that have been used before, like giving one of them someone else so that they’re now jealous and can’t be together. But I do feel like we will be playing cat and mouse with them for a while.