“Vampire Diaries” take a bite out of the Garden State

I learned a few things about the cast of “The Vampire Diaries” yesterday that I didn’t know.

Jersey boy Paul seemed happy to be home./All Garden State Plaza event photos by Ava Gacser

First – and most importantly – Paul Wesley, who plays *good* brother vampire Stefan, is a Jersey boy.

“My home state!” he shouted in greeting, moments after taking the stage during a Q&A with fellow castmates Ian Somerhalder and Nina Dobrev at Paramus’ Garden State Plaza.  (The event followed a meet-and-greet/signing at the mall’s Hot Topic.)

Who knew?

While one of the some 500+ fans gathered at the mall told me she thought he was from Cherry Hill, the truth is – according to IMDB and Wikipedia – Paul is another Marlboro celebrity. (He joins the Hayes family from TLC’s “Table for 12.”) He was born in New Brunswick (as was I, albeit a *few* years earlier) and reportedly attended Rutgers (ditto) for one semester before leaving to pursue acting.

Ian, who plays bad boy Damon on the show, seemed to enjoy all of the adulation - most of which came from teenage girls. (Shocking!)

I also learned that Paul, who plays *good* boy vampire Stefan, is a big fan of a certain kooky reporter from Kazakhstan.

“Paul does the best ‘Borat’ impression ever!” revealed Nina.

(Paul quickly confirmed that with a quick “Hello, hello!” in a full-on Sacha Baron Cohen voice.)

Fans had an overall better view of these posters (for a good five hours or more) than they did of the "Vampire Diaries" stars.

As for Ian (he of the piercing baby-blue eyes), who plays oh-so-bad-boy vampire Damon (Stefan’s older brother), he confirmed that he will return to his roots as the ill-fated (or maybe not so ill-fated?) Boone on the new – and final – season of “Lost,” which kicks off at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, on ABC.

When asked how many episodes he will be in, he replied, “I think three.”

I bet Nina - sandwiched between Ian on her left and Paul on her right - was the envy of every single female in the mall yesterday.

Nina refused to take sides in the fans’ battle over which vampy brother is hotter.

“I am on ‘Team Defan,'” she joked.

Nina did offer a tiny hint at this week’s eagerly anticipated episode, “Children of the Damned” (see above clip) – which features the introduction of her character Elena’s alter-ego, Katherine: “There will be blood.”

Before the question-and-answer session ended, I made my way around the corner to the entrance of Urban Outfitters. The actors had come through the store on their way in, so I figured they would leave that way, too. And it’s a good thing I was standing there, because that’s exactly what happened.

Paul walks through Urban Outfitters on his way out of the event.

Paul was the first one through. When fans began tapping on the window, he turned around, smiled and waved hello. Ditto Nina.

Ian was the last to walk by, but he wasn’t content with just smiling and waving. Oh, no.

This photo was snapped seconds before Ian got *up close and personal* - albeit through a glass window - with some fans.

Ian took it a step further: He walked over to the window, smiled and pressed his lips against it in a kiss! (If only I’d caught that on video!)

If it wasn’t already obvious, Ian enjoyed himself thoroughly.

“I feel like a Beatle!” he said during the Q&A.

Later, he wrote on Twitter: “New Jersey rocked our world! Thank you to everyone there tonight- completely surreal… Thank you thank you thank you.”

A short article about the event is featured in today’s issue of The Record and professional photos are available here and here. In addition, there is an assortment of videos taken by fans on Youtube. The picture quality of this one is particularly good. Enjoy!

Also, the new issue of Nylon magazine features the trio in a cover story. Alas, the magazine is cleverly keeping most of the article offline, ensuring people will actually buy the issue. They know how to whet the fans’ appetite (for blood?), that’s for sure. However, the mag’s site does sport some great photos of the actors. Here are just a few:

Credit for this photo and the two below, Nylon Magazine

If anyone was at the Garden State Plaza event and would like to share their stories, photos, or video, please leave a comment!

And by the way, I would love to know how Ian got ahold of my cat. I want Ginger back!

The kitty Ian's holding in his Twitter photo bears a striking resemblance to a certain cat I know...

Is my Ginger a doppelganger for Ian's cat or what?/Credit Ava Gacser

New Jersey & TV: Perfect together

Quick!  How many television shows can you name that either a) take place in New Jersey or b) feature a New Jersey native?

Greetings from my hometown, New Jersey's Franklin Township (Somerset County), No. 5 on Money Magazine's 2008 Best Places to Live list!

These days, you only have to turn on your television and New Jersey is all up in your face. I can think of a whopping 26 shows off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are others. (Obviously, I am only including current shows, otherwise “The Sopranos” would be at the top of this list.)

In addition to this list, at least three more will join the ranks this year: the tentatively titled “Jersey Couture” (about a dress shop in Freehold/Monmouth County) from Oxygen, “Jerseylicious” (about a hair salon in Green Brook/Somerset County) from The Style Network, and Martin Scorsese’s “Boardwalk Empire” (a historical look back at Atlantic City/Atlantic County) from HBO.

And now, without further ado, is my list of the Top 26 Jersey-centric TV shows:

26. National Geographic Channel’s “The Dog Whisperer”

Pooch communicator Cesar Millan may be from Mexico, but his right-hand man, Daddy the pit bull, was Jersey born and bred.

That’s right: The lovable, gentle giant who’s helped Cesar reform countless pups was originally owned by rapper Redman from Newark (Essex County). When Redman’s tour schedule took him away from Daddy for long stretches of time, Cesar stepped in and offered to adopt him. Nowadays, the 16-year-old cancer survivor is retired from Cesar’s grueling TV schedule, but on any given day you can find repeats that include him.

*Sadly, Daddy died in February 2010.

25. CNBC’s “Mad Money”

“Mad Money” host Jim Cramer may be from Pennsylvania, but it’s Summit (Union County) he calls home. The author, former hedge fund manager and co-founder of TheStreet.com gained perhaps the most notoriety (and not in a good way) last year when he received a public smackdown courtesy of another Jersey boy, “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart.

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24. Fine Living Network’s “Closet Cases”

New Brunswick (Middlesex County) native Lloyd Boston puts his best fashion foot forward and helps the clueless sort out their wardrobe.

(Note: The above clip features Lloyd making over his mom, Lynell Kollar. I was present for part of this episode’s shoot, which took place in North Brunswick. You can read all about it on my website.)

23. TLC’s “Table for 12”

The Gosselins aren’t the only family of multiples with their own TV show. “Table for 12” focuses on the mostly harmonious day-to-day lives of the Hayes family – Eric and Betty and their 10 children (two sets of twins and sextuplets) – as they live out their lives in Marlboro (Monmouth County).

(Note: The above video features the Hayes’ trip to Essex County’s Turtle Back Zoo.)

22. USA’s “White Collar”

Though he may be forever typecast as Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion-forward friend Stanford Blatch in HBO’s “Sex and the City,” Highland Park (Middlesex County) native Willie Garson continues to find work on both the large and small screen. His latest is the series “White Collar,” in which he plays a con man.

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21. Sundance Channel’s “Be Good Johnny Weir”

Outlandish, outspoken male figure skater Johnny Weir may originally be from Pennsylvania, but his personality is a chip off his adopted state’s block. Johnny’s Garden State roots run deep: He lives in Lyndhurst (Bergen County) and trains in Wayne (Passaic County). He loves nothing more than vacuuming his apartment and doing dead-on impressions of his Ukrainian coach. And, as his reality show confirms, he’s a complete and utter pleasure to watch, both on and off the ice.

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20. “The Wendy Williams Show” (syndicated)

“How you doin’?” The phrase may be synonymous with Joey from “Friends,” but radio-turned-TV talk show host Wendy Williams has made it all her own. The host of the daily gab-fest “The Wendy Williams Show” is a Jersey girl through and through: Raised in Ocean Township (Monmouth County), she now makes her home in North Jersey.

19. FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

Born in Neptune, raised in Asbury Park (Monmouth County) and boarded at school in Summit (Union County), Danny DeVito has never forgotten his Jersey roots (even after sucking down numerous limoncellos). In addition to his saucy role as Frank Reynolds on “Philadelphia,” Danny owns two production companies – Jersey Films and Jersey Television – which together have produced a variety of impressive titles, including “Pulp Fiction,” “Reno 911!,” “Freedom Writers” and a little film starring another Jersey boy called “Garden State.”

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18. TLC’s “Cake Boss”

Buddy Valastro creates art in his family-owned Hoboken (Hudson County) bake shop.

17. Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is the epitome of a Jersey boy: sarcastic and wry, with a sharp wit.  Though the Leonia-born (Bergen County) Bourdain cops to wishing he’d lived his youth in “the city,” his love of the Garden State comes shining through in one of the first episodes of “No Reservations.” Take a peek:

16. HBO’s “The Life & Times of Tim”

This animated series – which finally returns for a second season Feb. 19 – is the brainchild of East Brunswick (Middlesex County) native son Steve Dildarian. In addition to thinking up all of the cringeworthy scenarios Tim finds himself in, Steve also voices the lead character.

15. Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker”

The outspoken, no-holds-barred owner of The Millionaire’s Club is Short Hills (Essex County) native Patti Stanger, a third-generation matchmaker. “The Millionaire Matchmaker” returns for a third season Jan. 19.

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14. The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries”

TV hunks may come and go, but the pair of cold-blooded brothers stalking Mystic Falls, Va., in “The Vampire Diaries” has definitely heated up primetime this season. Playing good boy opposite former “Lost” star Ian Somerhalder, Marlboro (Monmouth County)-raised (New Brunswick born and Rutgers dropout) Paul Wesley – as 162-year-old Stefan Salvatore – sports chiseled, movie-star looks and a sensitive soul. Right now, he’s clearly won the heart of fair Elena. But brother Damon shares a certain chemistry with Elena, too. Who will ultimately wind up with her?

13. Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report”

Why is Southern-raised Stephen Colbert on this list? Because he’s a Jersey resident – Montclair (Essex County), to be exact.
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12. ABC’s “Scrubs”

You may already know that “Scrubs” star Zach Braff (who also put New Jersey on the movie map with “Garden State”) was raised in Maplewood (Essex County). But did you know that Zach’s co-star, John C. McGinley, grew up one town over in Millburn (Essex County)?
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11. “Regis and Kelly” (syndicated)

You know Kelly Ripa as the perky sidekick of the lovable curmudgeon Regis Philbin on “Regis and Kelly,” but years ago she was just another Jersey girl – albeit one (from Berlin in Camden County) who just happened to shake her groove-thing daily on a little local TV show called “Dancin’ On Air.” The show, filmed in Camden and aired on a Philly network, “Dancin’ On Air” (which morphed into “Dance Party USA” when the show went national), featured teased-out teens dancing to ’80s hits. Ms. Kelly a was a regular and her long, curly blond hair was the envy of many viewers (including me, who watched the show religiously in high school). Here she is (with Regis) poking fun at more Jersey girls on my list, “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”:

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10. HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”

Comedian Bill Maher -a River Vale (Bergen County) native – hosts this informative, entertaining look at current events, politics and popular culture.

(Note: The above clip features Princeton prof Cornel West.)

9. NBC’s “30 Rock”

Long Island may lay claim to funnyman Alec Baldwin, but it’s Parsippany (Morris County) that co-star Jane Krakowski calls home. This versatile actress – who met “Ally McBeal” co-star Calista Flockhart while they were students at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts – is as much at home on the stage (she won a Tony for her performance in “Nine”) as she is playing a goofball on critics’ darling “30 Rock.”

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8. NBC’s “Mercy”

This medical drama about three nurses takes place in a fictional Jersey City (Hudson County) hospital and features numerous Garden State references throughout its episodes. In a brilliant crossover move, “Real Housewives of New Jersey’s” Jacqueline and Teresa added an extra dose of “Joisey” realism to an episode in this, its first, season.

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7. Fox’s “Glee”

I bet New Jersey has never been more happy to claim a geek as one of its own than Lea Michele’s character Rachel Berry in “Glee.” Not only does Lea, who grew up in Tenafly (Bergen County), have killer pipes (at 23, she’s a Broadway veteran), she’s also proven herself to be an adept actress and fashion maven.

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6. E!’s “Chelsea Lately”

If you think Patti Stanger is outspoken, check out Chelsea Handler, host of this nightly comedy/talk show. Chelsea, who is also a stand-up comedian and three-time author (her latest, “Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang,” drops March 9), is nothing but an old-fashioned (translation: sarcastic and snarky) Jersey girl from Livingston (Essex County). Hmmm… maybe there’s something about the water in Essex County?

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(Note: The above clip contains Jennifer Aniston’s fashion diss on Jersey.)

5. Fox’s “House”

It may not feature any actors from the Garden State (former Monmouth resident Kal Penn’s character was killed off last year), but “House” officially put Princeton – and Plainsboro (Mercer and Middlesex counties, respectively)- on the nation’s radar. The hospital may not exist in reality, but the series is sprinkled with occasional Garden State references. And, in an ironic twist of life imitating art, construction on a new Princeton hospital – in Plainsboro – is underway.

4. Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey”

If there’s one thing we can count on with “The Real Housewives” franchise, it’s confirmation that the rich live well no matter what their zip code. But this Franklin Lakes (Bergen County) bunch brought a breath of fresh air – and more than a few expletives – to the series’ formula. Prostitution whore, indeed!

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3. ABC’s “Lost”

While his character is not one of the original “Lost” castaways, there is no doubt that former Old Bridge resident (Middlesex County) Ken Leung (ghost buster Miles Straume) is a star of the most mammoth TV series, like, ever. His delicious sarcasm rivals Sawyer’s and proves that he’s a Jersey boy at heart.

2. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”

Comedian/highly successful mock-talk-show host Jon Stewart was raised in Lawrenceville (Mercer County).
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1. MTV’s “Jersey Shore”

Love it or hate it, MTV has a bonafied hit on its hands with this controversial *reality* show, which has introduced an entirely new vernacular into popular culture. I guarantee most New Jerseyans have never before heard most – if not all – of these phrases before: creeping (hitting on), GTL (gym, tan, laundry), grenade and grenade launcher (and that’s just from one episode!). “Jersey Shore” may in actuality star only one Garden State native (Hazlet’s Sammi “Sweetheart”), but it’s put Seaside Heights (Ocean County) on the nation’s radar, for good or bad.

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New Jersey is where it’s at

We may be experiencing icy-cold temps, but things are definitely cookin’ here in New Jersey.

Move over, Kleinfeld. Diane & Co. is coming to Oxygen./Photo credit Diane & Co.

Aside from California, the Garden State has probably been getting the most attention these days from reality television. Let’s review, shall we?

MTV’s “Jersey Shore” has Ocean County covered.  TLC balanced the overexposed Pennsylvania Gosselin multiples with a kinder, gentler alternative, “Table for 12,” which features one of Marlboro’s (Monmouth County) finest, police officer Eric Hayes, and channeled its inner “Sopranos” with Buddy Valastro’s Hoboken (Hudson County) bake shop in “Cake Boss.” And Bravo bounded Bergen County onto the reality TV map with a little show called “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

As of now, at least two more shows will represent assorted corners of the Garden State this year. As I mentioned previously,  The Style Network knows Somerset County is tasty and will get to prove that to the rest of the world when it debuts “Jerseylicious,” about a Green Brook hair salon, beginning March 21. (You can read all about Route 22’s Gatsby Salon stylists right here.)

Not to be outdone, Oxygen is getting in on the Garden State love with “Jersey Couture,” which focuses on an upscale dress shop in Freehold. Way to represent, Monmouth County!

According to MTV News, the shop is Diane & Co. on Route 9, which is run by Diane Scali and her family.

“With a no nonsense attitude, the Scali family’s extravagant dress store is the premiere glamour stop in New Jersey,” Oxygen said in a press release. “Get ready for the Cinderella experience of a lifetime. Whether it’s for her (sic) bride’s maid’s needs or her high school prom frills, when it comes to ‘what to wear’ to that elegant affair, no one gets the job done like the ladies at Diane & Co.”

Sounds like “Say Yes to the Dress” for the teen crowd, no?

You can learn more about Diane & Co. – and perhaps get a taste for what the show will be like – by following the shop on its Facebook page.

Meanwhile, I want to know how long it will take before Middlesex County gets its big break…

“Table For 12” visits East Brunswick

So it was by complete happenstance that I just caught on television New Jersey’s own Hayes family (aka the stars of TLC’s “Table For 12”) taking their brood of 10 children – take that, Gosselins! – to the movies at none other than East Brunswick’s Mega Movies.

Unlike another TLC couple, Eric and Betty Hayes actually seem to LIKE each other. What a concept!/Credit TLC

Unlike another TLC couple, Eric and Betty Hayes actually seem to LIKE each other. What a concept!/Credit TLC

During the minutes-long clip – which the network sandwiched between new and repeat “Jon & Kate Plus 8” episodes – the family from Marlboro brought all of their children to the movies for the very first time. They attended an advance screening of “Astro Boy” (which opens Friday) and were treated to a birthday party for the sextuplets in the theater’s party room. (The sextuplets’ birthday is Sept. 13; the segment was filmed Sept. 12.)

“Table For 12’s” second season kicked off in September, but the network currently does not have any episodes (new or otherwise) scheduled to air.

You can see photos of the Hayes’ day at the theater by visiting Mega Movies’ Facebook page (the theater is located inside Brunswick Square Mall). “Table For 12” has its own Facebook page, too.

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