Fair warning for fans of Sara Shepard's books: When you tune in to ABC Family tonight to see the premiere of "The Lying Game," you're going to notice a number of changes. Some of the characters' names are different, there's no hint of Sutton Mercer's (Alex Chando) prank-playing Lying Game and, oh, yeah, Sutton is alive and video chatting with her long-lost-identical-twin-in-foster-care, Emma, before they decide to meet up in Arizona. (The novel starts off with Sutton observing the twin she never knew from beyond the grave.) Also, randomly, Sutton lives in Phoenix instead of Tucson. But after seeing her "Pretty Little Liars" series adapted to the small screen, Sara is very relaxed about the tweaks, and she hopes readers will be too.
"The pilot is a little bit different, but I hope that those who have read the books will stick with it, because I think it's going in a really fun direction," said Sara, who has also only seen the pilot of the new series but has a little more inside info on what will happen next. "I'm so happy with 'Pretty Little Liars,' because I do think they've followed the books—they've followed the characters. A lot of the stories aren't what happened in the books, but I could totally see them being plot devices in the books. And I hope that's the way the 'Lying Game' goes too."
In the book, the first we see of Sutton is a snuff film of her tied up and apparently being strangled. And the first Emma sees of Sutton's friend, they're kidnapping her, and it turns out to be another round of her clique's Lying Game. Sara has a theory on why none of those scary antics are seen in the series' first episode. "It reminds me a lot of an earlier draft of the book, and some things hadn't come up yet, like the Lying Game club," she told us. "I don't want to say this for certain, but I've heard rumors that the club may come into the show, which would be really fun."
Then again, Sara's aware that a network like ABC Family has to be careful with the kinds of mean girl pranks its shows depict. "Maybe there should be a disclaimer at the beginning, like 'Don't do this at home. Be nice!'" she laughed. With her young adult novels, Sara said she hopes no such disclaimer is necessary, because no matter how risky the characters' behavior gets, they do end up learning a lesson that should be apparent to young readers.
"I really do think it's important to teach a lesson," she said. "When I started writing 'Pretty Little Liars,' I created the girls with their specific issues because I thought it would be things teenage girls were really going through: sexuality questions and eating disorders and not fitting in and all that stuff. I have had a lot of readers say that they've really connected to those girls and learned a lot from what they've gone through.
"As far as 'The Lying Game,' it's kind of the same thing," she continued. "Emma has quite a conscience. Sutton's friends are mean girls, but Emma is so on the outside, she's not a mean girl, and I think readers understand that. But Sutton is watching from beyond the grave, and it's interesting: I've tried to make her realize, 'I really was not a nice person, and it's no wonder somebody wanted to kill me,' and sort of atone for what she did when she was alive."
As for whether the TV version of Sutton winds up atoning from the other side of the grave, we'll have to wait and see.
Will you be tuning in to "The Lying Game" tonight?