When Lunch Ended,Plate-Spinning Began

srobbins@nbmedia.com | @stephrobbins

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but Julie Plec begs to differ. The executive producer of The CW hit The Vampire Diaries, its new spinoff The Originals and upcoming sci-fi series The Tomorrow People, Plec has enjoyed many a milestone career moment while dining midday.

For instance, Diaries came to fruition during a casual lunch at Arnie Morton’s in Burbank, Calif., when Plec, longtime friends Kevin Williamson (Diaries cocreator and EP) and former CW and current Lifetime exec Jen Breslow were discussing the release of the Twilight movie. “Kevin and I were saying how nobody would be dumb enough to make another vampire show,” Plec says.

Ironically, Breslow had been trying to find writers to adapt Vampire Diaries books, so she asked if the duo would come on board. Both agreed; the show debuted in September 2009, catapulting Plec’s TV career. Diaries’ fifth season premiered Oct. 3 and earned a solid 1.8 rating in the network’s target women 18-34 demo and 2.55 million total viewers, according to Nielsen fast nationals. The Originals retained 84% of Diaries’ totalviewer lead-in, with 2.15 million.

By the time she got to high school, Plec, who grew up mostly in suburban Chicago, knew she wanted to work in entertainment. After college, she moved to Los Angeles three months later.

“I didn’t know how to get a job, so every day I would sit at Jerry’s Deli and read the trades,” she recalls.

Help came when family friend Lisa Harrison—who is now her agent at William Morris Endeavor—recommended Plec to replace her as the assistant to film producer Wes Craven.

Her job with Craven quickly evolved from small tasks to reading every script that landed on his desk, as she became known as “the girl who could read a script in 22 minutes.”

Plec continued to work on various film and TV projects over the years, and discovered a passion for writing and showrunning. In 2004, she joined production company Benderspink, leading its new TV arm. Plec sold the company’s first project, teen sci-fi drama Kyle XY, to ABC Family, and eventually left in 2006 to write full-time on the series.

Juggling Act

Today, Plec is managing a full plate of three primetime series. “I’m always working, it’s just a matter of what needs my attention,” she says, although the pressure doesn’t appear to phase her.

“She never wears her stress,” says Greg Berlanti, Tomorrow People executive producer and a college friend. “I’m not sure how she does it all—I think Diet Coke is involved.”

With Diaries running smoothly, Originals is now Plec’s main focus. It’s another series that “developed very organically over lunch,” this time with Peter Roth, president and chief content officer of Warner Brothers Television Group.

This week, Originals will move into its regular Tuesday 8 p.m. time slot. As for competition with ABC’s new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Plec isn’t overly concerned. “We’ve got a nice built-in fan base and hopefully enough of a new one,” she says.

Plec considers Tomorrow People, an adaptation of the British sci-fi drama about teens with paranormal abilities premiering Oct. 9, a gift from Berlanti. He and fellow executive producer/ writer Phil Klemmer will be primarily running the series. “I just want to earn my keep…and add value,” Plec says.

Much of Plec’s value stems from her love of the fantasy genre, which all of her shows fall into. The CW president Mark Pedowitz believes this makes Plec a fantastic showrunner. “She is a fan in the first place, and knows what other fans want to see and hear,” he says.

In the rare moments when Plec isn’t working, she enjoys dinner with friends and her must-see TV shows Scandal, Homeland and The Newsroom. And she believes the vampire genre, which sparked her career, still has teeth. “We thought Vampire Diaries was going to be the thing that killed the genre four years ago, and it has only strengthened it even further,” she says.