Jennifer Armstrong
June 08, 2010 AT 09:18 PM EDT

Could Pretty Little Liars be the next Gossip Girl? The new summer show — about a group of high-schoolers mourning the disappearance of their friend when they start receiving mysterious text/IM/etc. messages that seem to be from her — premieres at 8 p.m. ET tonight on ABC Family. With a pilot episode stuffed with scandal (a teacher-student affair, a girl-on-girl kiss) and a pedigree as a popular teen book series (not to mention from the same publisher/producers at Alloy Entertainment), it’s hard not compare it to our beloved GG. But will the show live up to that promise — and to author Sara Shepard’s sexy tomes? Shepard (middle) talked about the scandalous pilot, the real-life inspiration for the seductive English teacher, and, um, school colors at her first meeting with the Liars cast as EW.com listened in. We didn’t have to ask a single question ourselves: Stars (from left) Shay Mitchell, Ashley Benson, Troian Bellisario, and Lucy Hale — who’d all just read the books themselves — peppered Shepard with obsessive questions that came fast, furious, and often in unison:

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS CAST: Have you seen the pilot?

SARAH SHEPARD: I love the pilot. Fans of the books online are like, “They don’t look like the characters!” But they get very stuck with those dolls on the covers. You guys do a really good job of being the characters in all the important ways. The thing with those dolls is I had a different idea myself of the girls in my mind before those dolls showed up on the covers. So if I had to give that idea of them up, fans can get used to you guys. Every one of you I was just like … she’s perfect. You’re not exactly as they’re described in the books, but hopefully readers will get over that. What was so great was that the pilot was so close to the book. Though there will be more episodes than there are books, so it’ll have to go off of them eventually.

PLL: Did ABC Family consult you a lot on the pilot?

SS: I remember they emailed me asking me what the school colors were. I was like, I don’t know! But then it made sense when I saw it, because you guys were in the locker room. They needed colors. I was happy with what they went with [blue and white].

PLL: How much of it is from your own life?

SS: The girls are all different aspects of me, though the stuff that happens to them — no. There are so many little things from my life. That’s why I was squirming. I know an Ezra Fitz [the name of the hot, young English teacher who flirts with Hale’s character, Aria]. He was a very good sport about this. He was just a friend, though. I never had a hot English teacher.

PLL: Do you know how far we’ll get in the books in the first season of the show?

SS: The first season is the first four [of eight]. You’ll find out who it is [sending the messages]. I know it’s going to go in different directions than the books. But that’s really fun for me.

PLL: Were you worried they’d have to take all the juicy stuff out to make it safe for TV?

SS: I didn’t need to be! The shoplifting, the girl kiss, the affair with the teacher … they left it all in there.

Read more:

Exclusive: Holly Marie Combs joins ‘Pretty Little Liars’

ABC Family picks up dramas ‘Huge’ and ‘Pretty Little Liars’

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