The untold truth of Sweet Valley High

Long before Twilight and Hunger Games were even a thought, writer Francine Pascal dominated the YA scene with her prolific Sweet Valley High book series. Growing up in the ’80s or ’90s, you couldn’t avoid SVH fever — which makes sense, considering the series spawned more than 140 books during those decades alone. It’s no mystery why TV execs thought bringing the teen tomes to the small screen would be an insta-hit. And while it ultimately only ran for four seasons, this show about the beautiful, blonde California girls Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield left a lasting impression on fans. Still, the short duration raises the question: What’s the real scoop? Here are some little known facts about what went on behind the scenes. 

SVH was always meant for the small screen

Despite the sprawling success of the SVH book series, author Francine Pascal didn’t intend on ever putting the Wakefield twins’ story into novel form. Rather, she first envisioned it as a sort of teenage soap opera for TV. 

“I originally planned to sell the idea for a daytime drama featuring teenage characters to television networks, until a friend suggested that a book series, rather than a television series, might be the best way to full develop the fictitious Southern California town of Sweet Valley,” she explained in a Q & A with her publisher, Penguin Random House. “The rest is publishing history — and now a TV show, too!”

The twins really were different IRL

Just like their onscreen alter-egos Jessica and Elizabeth, real-life twins Brittany and Cynthia Daniel proved to have distinctly different personalities. According to makeup artist Zepture, “It takes about 30 minutes to do their makeup… Brittany loves makeup!” In a behind-the-scenes video interview, Brittany also admitted to relishing the time it took to have her hair done by set stylist Michael Reitz. As for Cynthia? Both Zepture and Reitz agreed she did not share her sister’s fondness for the getting ready process. “She fidgets the whole time,” revealed Reitz. 

Pascal played favorites

Since Pascal created both Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s characters, the girls are like her literary children. And although it’s practically impossible for a mother to choose her favorite child, Pascal admits she has a special fondness for one twin over the other. When asked by Debbie’s World of Books which twin she favored, the author responded, “I would say that I’m more of an Elizabeth with some bad Jessica tendencies. I definitely have the same morals and work ethic that Elizabeth does, and we are similar in a lot of other ways, so she is definitely my favorite.” 

That’s not to say, though, that Pascal finds Elizabeth without flaw. “My only problem with Elizabeth is that she isn’t boring,” she told The Guardian. “Sometimes good is a little dull.” 

The Daniel twins were a match made in twins heaven for the show

Can you imagine the pressure that would come from trying to cast two characters so iconic to pop culture? With the stakes that high, the series’ execs knew they had to nail it. Fortunately for them, a set of twins practically made for the parts came along. 

“We interviewed countless twins, but when we met the Daniel twins, we knew right away we had to have them,” co-executive producer Abbie Charette said in a behind-the-scenes interview. Executive producer Lance H. Robbins echoed the sentiment, elaborating, “It was very easy when Brittany and Cynthia walked into the office to make that decision…. They are very interesting, and exciting and fun.”

They were suggested by Pascal’s daughter

The casting directors can’t take all the credit for finding the perfect twins for the SVH series — SV Unlimited — a now-archived fan site once devoted to all things Sweet Valley — interviewed Pascal (via LiveJournal) at the height of the Wakefield twins’ popularity, managing to eke out some intriguing intel, at which time Pascal divulged it was a member of her family who suggested the Daniel sisters should play the Wakefield sisters. 

“I thought the casting was close to perfect. The Daniel twins were amazing, and we were so lucky to have found them. It was actually my eldest daughter Jamie who discovered them. We couldn’t have asked for better actors… it was as if the Daniel twins were made to be Liz and Jess!” Pascal told SV Unlimited.

No teen drama here

The cast all got along really well. Despite how much drama one might imagine a show full of teenagers would entail, their on-set camaraderie was confirmed by the cast and creative execs. According to Michael Perl, who played Winston Egbert, “I had a great time with Brock [Burnett, who played Bruce] and Harley [Rodriguez, who played Manny]. We hung out quite a bit the first year. But they were all good people and fun to work with. I still catch up with Brock now and again.” Buddies on the series and in real-life to this day? There must have been some set magic.  

Charette and the Daniel twins seemed to think so, too. “You can just see the chemistry between the cast as they’ve gotten to know each other,” Charrette said. As highly as Brittney and Cynthia spoke of each other about their relationship during filming, it’s possible their innate chemistry set the tone for the tight-knit cast.

Brittany envied Jessica Wakefield’s wardrobe

Actors often cite getting to step inside a personality outside of their own as a perk of the craft, and Brittany certainly seemed to enjoy adopting Jessica’s wild style. Remember all of her midriff-baring tops and form-fitting dresses? According to the show’s costume designer, Julie Rae Engelsman, the wardrobe offered Brittany a welcome departure from her regular threads. “Brittany always tells me, she says, ‘I love getting to do this!’ because in real life, she’s not really that way,” said Engelsman. Fun fact? Much of Jessica’s wardrobe inspo came from Barbie

Sweet Valley High was almost Sweet Apple High

It’s hard to imagine Sweet Valley being called anything else but, as it turns out, that wasn’t even the original name of the fictional California town created by Pascal. When the author first began writing the book series, she dubbed the Wakefield twins’ hometown “Sweet Apple.” Hmm, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? 

Quite comically, though, Pascal had inadvertently used the same name as another famous fictional town. “Do you know the musical Bye Bye Birdie? Sweet Apple was the town in that. My brother wrote it!” Pascal confessed to Girls at Library. “And it’s so strange that I didn’t even connect it with that play! So then when I showed him what I had written he said ‘No way, Francine!’. So then it became Sweet Valley.” 

Pascal had one major complaint about the TV show

Given how much energy and time Pascal devoted into creating the Sweet Valley High world, it’s only natural people would be interested to find out what the author thought about the TV series. SV Unlimited asked the SVH creator a lot of our own burning questions during their interview, and got some surprisingly honest responses (via LiveJournal). Did she agree with the casting? (“I thought the casting was close to perfect.”) Did she think the show captured the tone well? (“I thought it was too cartoonish.”)

While Pascal often spoke at the time of the TV series about how happy she was with the casting and was, in general, very complimentary, she admitted to SV Unlimited that she didn’t feel like her opinion was valued during production of the show. “I wanted more heart and truth, but unfortunately they didn’t listen to me. Though I certainly told them many times. I was Story Consultant, but it turned out to be in name only. With heart, that series could have been 90210 before 90210 even happened.”

There is a Sweet Valley High movie waiting in the wings

If you just can’t get enough of Sweet Valley High, you’re in good company. Writer Diablo Cody (of Juno and Jennifer’s Body fame) wants to see the the TV series brought back to life, too. She’s already gotten the seal of approval from Pascal and has been in the planning stage for years now. 

When in 2015, Vulture asked why the movie (a musical, no less) has yet to be made, Cody ranted, “From your lips to God’s ears! I get asked about Sweet Valley High more than anything else, and it’s interesting that a project that didn’t go forward would get that many questions. That shows there’s a huge appetite out there for a Sweet Valley High movie.”

Unfortunately, the production of the film has stalled — even though Cody revealed she had been collaborating with some impressive talent. “The Next to Normal guys wrote the songs,” she told Vulture. “They’re Pulitzer Prize–winners!” Alas, fans likely won’t get to see it anytime soon… or ever. 

ICYMI there’s a SVH book about the twins’ future

Fans may not get their SVH musical, but they can still get a glimpse into life with the Wakefield twins one more time. In 2011, Pascal penned Sweet Valley Confidential, which re-imagines Jessica and Elizabeth ten years after their time at Sweet Valley High. So where are the iconic blondes now? Without spoiling to much, Elizabeth is living alone in New York City and is estranged from Jessica — due to one very shocking betrayal. Of her decision to revisit the Sweet Valley universe, Pascal told The Guardian, “This was a chance not only to catch up with these people but to see what had happened, how their lives had gone on.”