By LYNN ELBER, AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES – For Skyler Samuels, “The Nine Lives of Chloe King” meant love at first reading.
The pilot script for ABC Family’s new series had it all, said the 17-year-old actress, starting with “a sci-fi element that wasn’t cheesy or totally in your face, and seemed entirely natural.”
Then there was the title character, an American teenager who is descended from — just go with it — an ancient and powerful catlike race that has long been threatened by human assassins, but who is as familiar as the girl next door.
“I heard my own voice, things she said, things she did,” Samuels said of Chloe. “I immediately fell in love. I said, `This is the girl for me,’ I walked into the audition and I’m happy to say, everybody agreed.”
Executive producer Dan Berendsen (“Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Hannah Montana: The Movie”), saw Chloe’s appeal when he read author Liz Braswell’s three-book series about the young, potential savior of her people.
But it took time to bring the series, debuting 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday, to life.
A TV movie script was well-received by ABC Family four years ago, but the project was shelved when the channel changed its emphasis from films to series. About a year ago, it was rediscovered by an ABC executive who saw potential.
Berendsen took a fresh approach to the script and, in breathtaking speed, the series was born. In a vote of confidence, it is getting a plum spot after ABC Family’s popular “Pretty Little Liars,” which returns for a new season at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
Besides a choice time slot, “Chloe King” has received abundant promotion that includes bus signs and billboards, including one on a corner Berendsen passes each day driving to work (“It’s the smartest thing they could do. I can never call and complain” about lack of support).
With grabber lines such as Chloe’s astonished, “I think I died today,” ABC Family is hoping for a breakout hit.
While “Chloe King” doesn’t take a slavish approach to the source material, the story and characters are recognizable, Berendsen said.
Chloe remains a girl going through “an amazing transformation,” he said. She still lives with her single mom (Amy Pietz), is best friends with Amy (Grace Phipps) and Paul (Ki Hong Lee), and is weighing the same two romantic options, Brian and Alek (Grey Damon, Benjamin Stone).
“After that, ABC Family gave me carte blanche to create my world, my stories, my mythology,” Berendsen said.
There’s also a hefty share of action that he expects will help draw boys to a show with a female lead, along with a dollop of humor that interrupts what Berendsen calls the usual teen show “nonstop wall-to-wall angst.”
The channel’s indulgence in sci-fi and fantasy is far from unusual in a world awash in Harry Potteresque magic, and the werewolves and vampires of “Twilight” and “True Blood,” just to scratch the surface.
Berendsen considers that tradition, not trend: “One of the things people always look for is escapism, some wish fulfillment, a `what if.’”
Series star Samuels see the chance for “blissful escape” in such fiction.
“Sometimes life gets tough and you just want to run away, fall in love with characters that are not completely human but still have a lot of heart. While we have supernatural elements, it never strikes you that’s so not normal,” she said.
Chloe dies and is resurrected? No biggie, says Samuels: “She has a date tonight” and she’s keeping it.
Berendsen suggests there’s a central conflict in fantasy figures, one that resonates strongly with adolescents facing their own push-and-pull.
“All you want to do is fit in and be accepted, and all you want to do is be unique and stand out,” says Berendsen, whose work on fare for youngsters has provided a refresher course in teenage tribulation.
Speaking of adolescents, he notes that Samuels, who was 16 when she auditioned, is the right age for Chloe. So are her cast mates, he said, making his point with a touch of hyperbole about another teen-centric TV series:
“We didn’t want to do `Glee,’ with 25-year-olds. We wanted teenagers.
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