Emily VanCamp, the star of Revenge, sits by the fireplace in her character's Hamptons cottage, chatting away happily. Then, in an instant, her sweet eyes turn icy. She purses her full lips until they're hard and narrow, and stares stonily into the distance. If you watch ABC's new hit drama, you know the look. VanCamp conjures it up regularly as the diabolical Emily Thorne, whose family has been subjected to grievous injustices over the years, and who loves nothing so much as a pissed-off flashback. VanCamp has grown so fond of the look that she's even given it a nickname: the Croc. ''In the pilot, I had this idea that Emily was like a crocodile,'' she explains, her face brightening. ''She's swimming around the Hamptons, taking people down all over the place, and I thought that was so hilarious as an image. So we call that look the Croc, and it's a big ongoing joke on set. I do it all the time.''
Revenge, a modern, soapy retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, clearly doesn't take itself too seriously, and that's exactly what fans love about it. The Wednesday-night drama is drawing a healthy 8.5 million viewers per week quite a feat in this season of the sitcom renaissance, especially given that no broadcast network has successfully launched a prime-time soap with this much buzz since Gossip Girl in 2007. Now Revenge and its sudsy formula unhappy rich people living in Hamptons mansions bitchily backstab one another while wearing gorgeous clothes have viewers, critics, and ABC wanting more. ''It's really sexy and it's full of romance,'' explains ABC's president of entertainment, Paul Lee, who gave the show a full-season order on Oct. 13. ''At the same time, it speaks to America's class system: There's a sense, underneath the surface, of anger.''
The road to Revenge was swift: After ABC development executives latched onto the idea of a Cristo update, the network tasked Swingtown creator Mike Kelley with building a series loosely based on the oft-retold story of a man who was wrongfully imprisoned and then spends his life plotting elaborate revenge. This time, though, ABC wanted the update centered on a woman, to capitalize on its female-heavy viewership. Kelley went to work, drawing inspiration from Damages, The O.C., and old soaps like Knots Landing.