The Secret Circle
Developed by Andrew Miller
Based on The Secret Circle novel by L.J. Smith
Produced by Outerbanks Entertainment, Alloy Entertainment, CBS Television Studios, Warner Bros. Television
Aired on The CW for 1 season (22 episodes) from September 15, 2011 – May 10, 2012
Britt Robertson as Cassie Blake
Thomas Dekker as Adam Conant
Phoebe Tonkin as Faye Chamberlain
Shelly Hennig as Diane Meade
Jessica Parker Kennedy as Melissa Glaser
Louis Hunter as Nick Armstrong
Chris Zylka as Jake Armstrong
After the untimely demise of her mother, Cassie Blake decides to move to her parents’ hometown, Chance Harbor, to live with her estranged grandmother. There she hopes to learn about her roots and solve the mystery of why her mother ran away from the town in the first place. After meeting the townspeople, she quickly learns that she is a hereditary member of a community of witches. As it so happens, her presence in the town completes the circle of her witch coven, which then awakens her magical abilities and enhances the powers of her group. Cassie refuses the call of her witch side at first, until she discovers her mother’s leather-bound Book of Spells and becomes more curious about her family’s dark history.
The show is heavily serialized, with the main story line being that of Cassie’s coven coming together to become a unified team despite a lot of infighting, love triangles, and outside threats. There had been a significant event that had caused the closing of Cassie’s mother’s coven, which led her to leave Chance Harbor in order to protect Cassie. Unraveling the mystery of the parents’ coven is an ongoing investigation that involves all members of Cassie’s group. Now that Cassie and her circle are united, they must face the sins of their parents’ past.
In the early 2010s, The CW had found rising success with The Vampire Diaries, a supernatural teen drama based on the book series by L.J. Smith, which opened the door for the network to develop shows that could be considered to be in the same vein in order to cast a similar spell on audiences. The network had three main supernatural shows competing for production in 2011, which were Awakenings (a zombie drama), Heavenly (a legal drama featuring an angel that turned human), and The Secret Circle (a teen drama about a witch coven). Also around this time, TVD producers Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec had been pitching around an idea for a companion series to their show that would follow parapsychology investigators. Out of this crop, the only series that was able to get to the next level had been The Secret Circle, which interestingly enough was also based on a book series by L.J. Smith.
The Secret Circle began its development with actor/writer Andrew Miller, who had gained acclaim for writing, directing, and producing the web series Imaginary Bitches (which is excellent and everyone should check out), which showed that he could write compelling characters, interesting plots, and witty banter. Miller wrote the early drafts of the pilot, making changes such as cutting down the coven size from twelve to seven (consolidating or creating new characters altogether) and speeding up momentum on certain key events. Before the network would agree to move ahead with the pilot, they brought in Kevin Williamson to help executive produce along with Miller, which tasked Williamson with refining Miller’s pilot script. Among the changes in Williamson’s version of the pilot, the coven was pared to six members and the setting was moved from New Salem to Chance Harbor. The network, now confident with the script, gave the pilot the green light, assigning it the show’s first cast member in Britt Robertson, who had just wrapped up the then soon-to-be-canceled-series Life Unexpected. She was shortly joined by Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicle’s Thomas Decker, H2O’s Phoebe Tonkin, and Eli Stone’s Natasha Henstridge. The network tapped their in-house director Liz Friedlander to film the pilot, a high profile assignment for her, as this would be her first time directing a series pilot. The production filmed in Vancouver, which became the set of Chance Harbor for the show’s entire run.
The network liked the pilot and gave it a series order. That summer, the show creators promoted the show by making appearances at SDCC, where they screened the pilot for potential fans and spoke at the TCA panel, where they answered questions in reference to the possibility of a shared universe of the two L.J. Smith based books. As explained by Williamson, the two shows would have to be separate, as the rules of magic in The Secret Circle do not gel with what has already been established in The Vampire Diaries, in addition to the fact that shooting crossover scenes would be impossible, due to both having very distant shooting locations. When the fall season arrived, The Secret Circle was placed in the time slot following The Vampire Diaries on Thursday nights in hopes of drawing in the same audience. The show premiered well and steadily continued to amass an audience with consistent fair ratings for the network, which earned it a full 22 episode season order a month within its run.
The second half of the season did not bode as well, as the ratings began to decline slightly, which may have been acceptable had the network been stable in leadership. Unfortunately, during this time there had been a change in regime within the network, wherein a new President of entertainment had been assigned, which meant that any new show that had a drop in ratings was put on notice. Under the new management, a new season of development had begun, which excited the new President much more than any of the network’s recently added programming. The network also had to consider that The Secret Circle was an expensive show to produce, and with its recent decline in ratings the thought had been that they may be better off starting fresh.
The Secret Circle was officially canceled the day after its final episode aired, which was surprising to many of the fans who saw the season finale with still developing plots. The show producers tried to salvage The Secret Circle by pitching it around to other networks such as ABC Family, an objective that was encouraged by fans, who started letter writing campaigns to each potential network demanding that they pick up the show. Although the campaigns were appreciated by the creators and cast, the renewal was not imminent, so everyone just had to move on to other projects.
The Secret Circle had the makings of a fun supernatural series, and it lived up to that for the most part. The series began fairly strong, with its pilot introducing the premise of the witch coven and magical abilities with a good bit of flash and grandeur. The pilot sets the tone of the series very well, as the magical abilities are all visually comprehensible and quite dynamic at times. There is a very well presented sequence in the pilot that shows Cassie’s abilities being enhanced by her love interest Adam. They attempt to make one water droplet float in the air and it works, but then in the next moment it is revealed that they had also unconsciously made countless other water droplets airborne. It’s a scene that presents Cassie’s ability as powerful yet unbridled.
The main drive of the series is the bond of the coven and the six characters at the center of it. The characters and the performers have varying degrees of success throughout the series, but the relationships and dynamics are almost always well drawn. At the center of the series is Cassie Blake, who is the audience’s entry point into the strangeness of Chance Harbor. Britt Robertson is a fair protagonist who commits to the seriousness of the character’s dilemmas, but at times she becomes very cumbersome portraying the gloom of the character. She seems to lack a sense of humor, which she had done well at displaying in her previous roles. There are opportunities for humor in how early on she is very bad at controlling her magical powers, but the show is more concerned in conveying the danger, rather than the absurdity, of her situations.
The romantic triangle between Cassie, Adam, and Diane does have some interesting progression throughout the series, although it begins quite generically. When Cassie meets Adam, she is instantly drawn to him and he to her, but it turns out he has a girlfriend, and that girlfriend turns out to be the only other person who has been nice to Cassie at the school.
Adam is presented as someone who genuinely wants to do the right thing but finds himself in situations that challenge him. The whole love triangle thing is one of those things where he finds himself in a tough spot, as he doesn’t want anyone to be hurt. Thomas Dekker gives his standard performance of a teen with complex feelings and attractions, and is pretty good at it. Shelly Hennig portrays Adam’s girlfriend Diane, who appears to be the most milquetoast of characters. Diane is another do-gooder that ends up being a bit of a floor mat to her friends. Eventually Diane’s character begins to break out of her shell, and she becomes more proactive and less submissive to those around her. Hennig does fine with what she’s given, but out of all the members of the coven, she has the least to do.
Although the teens’ storyline is the most significant one on the series, there is another story development happening as well with the parents. The season’s secondary plot involves the previous generation’s coven, who are hiding something from the kids. Although the story of the adults begins very predominantly at first, somewhere in the second half their plot tends to lose steam, and the main focus is more on to the kids’ story, which is understandable. The adult actors, including Natasha Henstridge and Ashley Crowe, are all very good in their plots when they do show up.
The world building of the show is also done very well and had very intriguing directions to go, had they been able to go on further. The show introduced demon possession, witch hunters, dark magic, and opposing covens all in the first season. Unfortunately the circle closed before it had its chance to truly shine.
Although The Secret Circle didn’t last very long, it did have a good run and a standout performance by Phoebe Tonkin, which fans of hers should definitely check out on this show. Currently there are a fair amount of shows that feature vampires, zombies, and even werewolves, but still very few that feature witches as the main focus. As far as supernatural shows featuring witches, this is one of the better ones, and offers an interesting take on the idea of witches and covens. One of the best things to be said about the show is that it has genuinely good production value, with well executed special effects.
Here are a few episodes that are recommended to sample the show.
“Pilot”: This episode has very good production values and sets up the series very nicely.
“Slither”: This episode is a bit of a game changer, as it somewhat affects the relationship dynamic for many of the characters.
“Masked”: This is the show’s Halloween episode, and it features Faye at her selfish best.
“Valentine”: One of the show’s most light-hearted episodes, where the girls have a bit of fun with their powers during a sleepover.
Andrew Miller would go on to write episodes of Backstrom and is currently developing the upcoming Peter Pan based TV series League of Pan.
Thomas Dekker went on to appear in The Mind of a Murderer, Fear Clinic, and Backstrom.
Shelly Hennig has since appeared on Justified, Zack Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, and MTV’s Teen Wolf.
Jessica Parker Kennedy would later appear on Nearlyweds, 90210, and Black Sails.