Based loosely on the popular book series by Sara Shepard, Pretty Little Liars is a teen drama on the Freeform channel that follows the lives of four girls (Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, Hanna Marin, and Emily Fields) in the town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania. Once close friends, their group fell apart when their clique leader, Alison DiLaurentis, was allegedly murdered. However, they are reunited when a mysterious villain named “A” torments them with knowledge of their pasts.
The TV show is in its seventh and final season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the Liars and their stories. Pocket Gems’ interactive storytelling platform, Episode (famous for its Mean Girls story and Path to Fame: Confidently Me, featuring singer, Demi Lovato) launched the first season of its Pretty Little Liars story today, developed in partnership with Warner Horizon Television and the show’s creative team.
Episode’s head of studio, Michael Dawson, spoke with [a]listdaily recently to talk about bringing Pretty Little Liars to the mobile platform, which currently boasts over 2.25 billion episodes viewed across 37,000 stories, and how the series will continue after the show ends.
Dawson explained that the partnership came together because Pretty Little Liars is one of the most popular shows among Episode’s core audience right now. Episode then talked with Warner Bros., and the showrunners thought that it would be a great way for fans to continue the story after the final season concludes.
“We worked with Marlene King, the creator of the show, and Warner Bros. to think through it (creating the experience),” said Dawson. “What we thought would be most fun for fans was letting them enter the world of Pretty Little Liars at the beginning of the story. They get to be friends with the four Liars, hang out in Rosewood, and make choices that shape the story while experiencing the mystery, fun and intrigue of their world. In order to keep it fresh, new and exciting, there are a whole set of new twists and turns—so the story won’t turn out the same way as it did in the show.”
When asked how Pretty Little Liars is special to Episode, Dawson said: “We have quite a large audience. We’ve had over two billion episodes read [and] millions of weekly active users. So, we can survey them and ask them: ‘if we were to partner with great Hollywood shows, what would they be most excited about?’ Pretty Little Liars has always come up towards the top of that list. Another thing is that it’s a wonderful world that helps us continue to expand what happens on Episode. For example, when we worked with Demi Lovato, we were able to bring music together with romance. With Mean Girls, we brought comedy in. Pretty Little Liars brings in suspense, intrigue and mystery in a way that we haven’t done as much and lets us push what’s possible.”
Dawson also explained the benefits of using the Episode platform in comparison to launching a more standalone Pretty Little Liars app to keep fans engaged. “I think there are a couple of elements,” said Dawson. “[But] one is that it (Episode) allows you to create a character that you can enter the world as, unlike the passive ways to consume Pretty Little Liars as a book or show. This is built around true interactive entertainment, where you step into the world and shape it. For a generation that has grown up entirely with smartphones and social media, where they’re used to being a participant in their stories, we’re letting them do that with Pretty Little Liars, and letting them become friends with these wonderful characters that they’ve grown up with. I think that’s something that would be really different from if it were done as a standalone app experience.”
So how does Pretty Little Liars compare to Mean Girls? “I think what’s similar about them is our approach to make them truly Hollywood-caliber stories and bringing them together with the interactive elements. With Mean Girls, we worked with Kiwi Smith, who co-wrote Legally Blond and Ten Things I Hate About You, to write it. With Pretty Little Liars, we worked with a team of great Hollywood screen writers, writers from the show, and Marlene King to ensure exceptional quality. The difference is in how we make sure the mood feels different. With Mean Girls, the mood is comedy, and here [with PLL] we had to make sure you have those kinds of edge of your-seat suspense moments that people love so much.”
Episode will work to time part of its Pretty Little Liars season with the show when it resumes in 2017. Dawson discussed how the mobile experience will also be promoted on the show’s related websites, and Episode is partnering with Snapchat to put out a range of promotions that will be targeted around schools across the US and Canada. Furthermore, there will be a launch event in New York City. Episode is “pushing out meaningful messages across marketing channels all around mobile, from Facebook to Instagram and YouTube,” said Dawson.
So, what will bring fans to Episode for more Pretty Little Liars? “It’s such a fun world to be a part of,” said Dawson. “The four Liars are like your other best friends, and you can hang out and be with them. They get to experience a heightened, phenomenal world where so many crazy things happen. Then they have to constantly be on guard while wondering what’s going to happen next. That feeling of being on the edge of your seat and not knowing what’s going to happen and being friends with the Liars are the two reasons that felt great for Episode. Here, you get to create a character and step into that world.”
But that raises the question of how suspenseful the Episode story can get, considering how Pretty Little Liars has both a popular book and TV series. Committed fans might already have an idea of what’s coming. “What’s good is, as they go through it, they will see that it’s not what they expect at all,” explained Dawson. “It is a different story, and we made some key and critical changes to make sure that they know it’s a new story—including how they’ll have to keep reading to find out who A is.”
For a new audience, who may not be familiar with the show or books, “they will get a chance to experience an amazing story, based in a high school world,” said Dawson. “It has suspense, it has intrigue, and it will let them meet four of the best friends they’ll ever have.”