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Interview with "Hart of Dixie" Creator Leila Gerstein

This summer at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, TX, I had the pleasure of interviewing "Hart of Dixie" creator/writer/executive producer Leila Gerstein to talk about that little Alabama town that we all know and love, Bluebell.  "Hart of Dixie's"  season premiere is Monday, October 7 at 8 pm on CW69.

Photo courtesy of CW Network

What was the inspiration for creating the show?

Gerstein: Well, I wanted to do a show about a small town. I was working on "Gossip Girl," and I kind of was New York City'ed out. I was tired of doing a show about a big city, so I wanted to do a show in the vein of the old WB shows like "Gilmore Girls" and "Everwood." The South was in the news a lot, so I felt that it would be the perfect setting for a big fish out of water story with some romance thrown in.

Who was the first person you cast for the show? Was it Rachel Bilson?

Gerstein: Yes, it was Rachel. We cast her first for the show. I already had a relationship with Rachel from working on "The O.C." and we signed her up first when we got the go ahead to do the pilot.

Rachel's character, Dr. Zoe Hart, is one of those characters that you just want to reach through the screen and shake, as she brings a lot of drama to the story-lines. Bilson does a wonderful job bringing a likeability to the character which is so important because in the wrong hands, Zoe could be a character that you could actually hate.

Gerstein:  Absolutely. Rachel is amazingly likable, and she is in real life too. Rachel Bilson is one of the most warm-hearted, generous, wonderful people in the world.  You can see it in her face and her eyes. She is one of the very few actors out there that is appealing to both men and women. Someone once said to me about her "Men want to sleep with her and women want to be her best friend."  That's a really rare thing to find, and that's what you want in your leading lady.

What's character on the show that you like to write for the most?  

Photo courtesy of CW Network

Gerstein:  We all really enjoy writing the Lemon (Jaime King) / Annabeth (Kaitlyn Black) scenes.  Annabeth's character is going to become a series regular this season, which is very exciting for us. Writing their Southern flavored dialogue and their cute little passive aggressive dynamic are just so much fun to write.  Really, all the Belle scenes are fun to write. But, we also had a lot of fun writing for George's (Scott Porter) character this year because we got to make him the straight man for the show. Scott Porter was amazing this past season.  We also really love writing for the Lavon Hayes character (Cress Williams) because the mayor is a really fun character to write for.

So Wade (Wilson Bethel) and Lemon have gone into business together with the Rammer Jammer.  Are we going to see romantic sparks between the two? You did mention today at the panel the name for the two characters being together, Lemonade.

Gerstein:  I honestly don't know. I think it's possible, but we will probably have them stay more like brother and sister with their relationship.

One of the things that is so appealing about the show is that you have such a strong supporting cast.  You have all these supporting characters that just seem to pop up and make the scenes so much better.  Are they fun to write for?

Gerstein:  Oh, yes, we love all are Bluebellians.  In our writers room,  we have head-shots of every single person who lives in Bluebell, so we don't forget about any of them. I loved the finale, writing that alligator heist scene was so much fun because we got to highlight some of the supporting characters like Frank (Steven M. Porter) who owns the Dixie Stop and is just a wacky guy. We love writing for characters such as Meatball (Matt Love), who is just so lovable. We fell in love with Tom (Ross Philips) and Wanda (Mallory Moye), Sargent Jefferies (Charles Robinson) too. That's the great thing about having a small town show, we are going to keep seeing these people over and over, where our audience really gets to know and love them as much as we do.

The two characters that have grown the most the past year was Lemon, who came to terms with being alone for the first time in her life, and Wade, who when we first met him was sleeping with just about any girl in town but now is a standup guy that has shown he can handle some responsibility.

Gerstein:  Yes, I agree. I think that breaking up Lemon and George was an amazing thing for Lemon.  It gave her an opportunity to be so vulnerable and so raw. We kind of had trouble writing for her character in season one because she was really king of manipulative, but suddenly seeing her this past season stripped away from everything that she held near and dear to her was amazing.  Jamie King is a wonderful actress and was really able to show that vulnerability. Anytime you see a character who wants something so badly, like her character wanting to make it on her own, it just makes the story-line better. Lemon really struggled with being independent, suffering through some shenanigans to get there, but we were with her the whole way because she wanted it. I think that anytime you see someone with an extremely strong drive like that you want them to succeed.

Wade also developed that drive.  He wanted Zoe Hart and changed himself for her.  You know, it's like every girl's fantasy that the "Bad Boy" is going to turn his behavior around and change for the girl that he loves.

I thought it was interesting in the finale of last season that Lemon mentioned to Wade that since he dated Zoe and made that one slip, he hadn't slept with anyone else.  Wade then realizes that it was true and that he really did care deeply for Zoe.

Gerstein:  Yes, exactly.  I don't think he realized that he had changed as much as he had.

I was talking with some fans of the show earlier, and they had some questions for you.  The fans really love all the singing, especially from George.

Photo courtesy of CW Network

Gerstein:  Yes, absolutely we are going to give them more singing on the show.  I love it when George sings on the show. Scott is a great singer and a great performer.

The other question from the fans was do you know who Zoe will end up with at the end of the series or are you just letting her love life play out as the seasons go on?

Gerstein:  I certainly have an idea who she ends up with in the end unless this show goes on for another eight years and then all bets are off.  But yes, I do have an idea on who she ends up with.

Are you influenced by the fans?  Will it influence you on who the fans want Zoe to end up with because there are very vocal camps on both sides on whether she ends up with Wade or George?

Gerstein: There are very vocal camps on both sides, which is why I can be influenced by the fans over that because there are passionate fans on both sides of that story-line.

Thank you so much and we look forward to the new season of "Hart of Dixie."

"Hart of Dixie's"  season premiere is Monday, October 7 at 8 pm on CW69.

The next ATX Television Festival will be held in Austin, Texas June 5-8, 2014.

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