TCA Liveblog: Shay Mitchell and Marlene King give us the scoop on “Pretty Little Liars”

I’m at TCA in Los Angeles this week, and today is all about the upfronts from ABC and ABC Family. You know what that means — Pretty Little Liars! But there’s even more, so check back frequently throughout the day, and for more from other networks later this week.

11:00 a.m. Pretty Little Liars

Before the cast and executive producers of Pretty Little Liars took the stage at TCA, ABC Family’s new president Michael Riley announced it was picked up for a second season, to which the room applauded. (Not typical at a conference full of, well, critics.) In fact, no one applauded when Riley followed it up with the renewal of The Secret Life of American Teenager.

But it wasn’t a surprise that Pretty Little Liars was going to see more episodes. Riley acknowledged that 2010 was a recordbreaking year for ABC Family, mostly due to the success of PLL. Although he said their aim is for what he calls “the mileniulls” (mostly women ages 13-34), ABC Family has become a Top 10 network for women ages 18-49 as well.

Pretty Little Liars is the cornerstone and is one of our great successes,” Riley said. “I’m thrilled about the amount of which it’s been talked about.” And the numbers don’t lie — last week’s debut episode for the winter season broke even more records for the show and the channel itself.

The actresses who play Emily, Hanna, Aria and Spencer (Shay Mitchell, Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale and Troian Bellisario) took the stage alongside executive producers Marlene King and Oliver Goldstick to answer questions, including how long the series can continue if it sticks to the book series.

“We’re very true to the series, but occasionally we’ll depart,” Marlene said.

Marlene King

“If we paid strict allegiance to the books, we’d only have one season,” Goldstick followed-up. “Because the material has to be parsed down. Our goal is to pay allegiance to the books, but just have some detours and surprises along the way.”

One of the relationship developments that they follow from the book is Ezra and Aria’s teacher-student romance, which Oliver is quick to say is not sexual, considering she’s his pupil.

But the same isn’t true for Emily this season. In fact, Marlene told me that Emily is going to be figuring out something different now that she’s out of the closet, and that obviously includes a little more than, uh, romance.

Caution: Possible spoilers ahead!

“This is a year where Emily finds out what kind of girl she really likes,” Marlene told me. “It’s like trial and error and, by the end of the season, I think she realizes what kind of girl she’s really into.”

So does that mean Maya?

“Not going to say!” she told me. But OK — will she only be dating girls?

“Yes, it’s important for us, with her, to not flip flop back and forth,” Marlene said. “Down the line, who knows. She’s a young person, falling in love. She’s true to who she falls in love with. She kind of dates more than anyone this year on the show.”

Shay is psyched about this, telling me, “Emily, on the show, has actually kissed more people than the other girls. I’m like ‘Thanks Mar’! It’s going to be fun — quite a selection!”

Shay Mitchell

On stage, Shay discussed the response she gets from fans who are questioning their own sexuality.

“I’m getting the most amazing response from girls and guys all over the world, thanks to Twitter,” Shay said. “And it’s been unbelievable, I mean, just the response from our last episode where Emily comes out to her father! Some comments were like ‘You’ve given me courage. Your father is so tough on the show; from the military. If Emily can do it, it’s inspiring.’ A lot of people have told me they have an easier time coming out to their parents. Just seeing, you know, it’s not so bad, and the storyline with Emily and Maya is so sweet, and it’s great. At the beginning when you didn’t know if Emily was gay or straight or bi, a lot of girls were finding it very relatable because they were like ‘I don’t know if I have feelings for this girl, but I see this character on TV going through the same thing.’ So I’ve been getting a lot of very, very positive feedback from that.”

As Shay referenced, Emily finally said the words “I’m gay” out loud last week to her father. I inquired as to why Marlene and the writers chose the word gay vs. lesbian or even bisexual.

“It just seemed the way that Emily, the character, would naturally express herself,” Marlene said. “It wasn’t something that we spent an enormous amount of time on, actually. It just felt it was natural for her to use the word gay.”

So besides getting around this season — and, of course, trying to track down “A” — will Emily be out at school?

In the books, the character of Emily was embraced in school when she came out,” Marlne said, Shay nodding next to her. “With her friends she had really unconditional love, and it was important for us to say that. We’ll probably continue with that. There is some conflict coming up with her with someone at school but it doesn’t have a driving force for her character.”

And from the promo photos and spoilers I’ve seen, I can tell you that conflict will come from a swim team member played by Lindsey Shaw.

It’s so good to hear that Emily’s sexuality is not going to be a point of discontent for her, except for with her parents, perhaps. But her friends never questioned her, and she took the opportunity to be honest with her father as soon as he came to her about feeling she wasn’t being honest with him. And now she’ll actually be figuring out that gay doesn’t mean you just fall for one girl that also happens to be gay in your high school? I don’t know how much better things could get.

Shay Mitchell and Lucy Hale

“If I can represent the gay community in any small way, I’m proud to do that,” Shay said. “But I have had a lot of girls even on the street that recognize [me] … and they ask me for advice. I don’t feel in any position to [give it], but I’m just saying be true to yourself and that’s what the character is doing … just live as much as an authentic life as you can.”

With the actress and producers being as strongwilled as they are about the authenticity of this character, Emily is definitely in good hands. And as for what or who Emily will choose in the end, she said she wants to check in with me at the end of the season “so we can talk about what ‘relationship’ means.”