It has been a decade since Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) had his first entree into life in "The O.C.," bringing fans of teen soap along for a look at life inside the mansions of Newport Beach. The Fox drama, which premiered on August 5, 2003, was filled with envelope-pushing sexual encounters, Juicy Couture jumpsuits, Death Cab for Cutie, trips to T.J. and much, much more.
Josh Schwartz was a day shy of 27 when "The O.C." first hit the airwaves, which made him the youngest TV creator ever and probably, one of the only ones who would admit to penning a highly-acclaimed pilot in his boxer shorts.
From the real story behind Mischa Barton's departure to the Cohens' original name, and the missed coupling opportunities to the star who didn't even make it onto "The O.C.'s" first poster, read on to see what Schwartz revealed to The Huffington Post while looking back on "The O.C." 10 years after its debut.
"I probably should've been less forthcoming about the fact that I worked in my boxers," Schwartz admitted. "I've now grown up and make sure to wear pants when I'm writing. Maybe boxers were the key. Maybe I should go back to boxers."
But in seriousness, he added, "For me, it was really an opportunity to write about the experiences that I had in college, coming as a Jewish kid from the East Coast to [the University of Southern California] ... Orange County/Newport Beach was an entirely new world to me and I, of course, was never going to fit in into that world, but I saw what was appealing about it ... On the one hand, a lot of the kids and their parents espoused very conservative, Ralph Lauren-wearing values and then, you know, when the sun goes down, it was a very different lifestyle," he said. "You don't ever want to write something with the point of view like you're looking down on what you're writing about. It was never about, 'Let's make fun of Newport Beach and Orange County.' I wanted it to be as appealing and as seductive for audiences as it was to me and I wanted the characters in that world to be as accessible to the audiences as someone like Ryan was, who was a bit more obvious outsider. So, very quickly, the idea of, 'Everybody in this world is an outsider, even if they appear to the ultimate insider,' started to take shape and really helped, I hope, make all the characters feel more accessible."
One character Schwartz had no trouble developing was Marissa Cooper's (Mischa Barton) Season 1 boyfriend: lacrosse-loving, puka-shell-sporting Luke Ward (Chris Carmack). "There was this whole legion of guys at USC, most of whom were in the Beta fraternity -- it was just a whole new breed of romantic obstacle for me," he explained. "These guy s were like, 6' 4", blonde, perennially stoned and would sort of show up at a party in flip flops and a collared shirt with their hair left completely however it was when they got out of the pool and leave with every girl in the place."
Despite his preconceived notions of Luke and co., Schwartz didn't have a dream cast in mind when writing "The O.C." pilot, but he did initially see things a bit differently than how they turned out. "Originally, when I started writing it, the Cohens were called the Needlemans so they were even more Jewish," he said. (Of course, Schwartz was later able to use the name in casting "The O.C.'s" fictional show-within-a-show "The Valley," which centered on a character named Jake Needleman, who was played by an actor named Grady Bridges, who was played real-life Colin Hanks.)
"In my head, when we started talking about casting, I was like, 'You know who could play Sandy would be Jeff Goldblum?' And everybody was like, 'That's too Jewish.' So we scaled back their name to Cohen and Peter Gallagher was the first person that we cast on the show," Schwartz said. And the rest, is epic eyebrow Jewish dad TV history.
Bringing together four unknowns to anchor a series is a risk, but for Schwartz and the casting team for "The O.C.," what their foursome lacked in terms of quantity of work, they made up for in chemistry. "Ben and Adam [Brody] had a really good dynamic between one another. I think they really respected each other and I think they were both happy when they showed up and met each other for the first time that neither one of them was what they expected. I think both of them were fearing that they were going to show up on a teen drama where everybody was going to look like they were straight out of an Abercrombie catalog," Schwartz said. "Ben had more acting chops and was a little more offbeat and certainly, Adam was no one's idea of a leading man in a teen soap when the show started. In fact, he wasn't even on the first poster they put out. I had to go back to Fox and say, 'This is the guy! You gotta put him on the poster!'"
Besides the burgeoning bromance, Barton and Rachel Bilson, who played her best friend Summer, "really hit it off, although they're very different," Schwartz said. "They didn't have that much to do as a foursome in the pilot. I think Rachel only had two lines or three lines in the pilot, one of which was, 'I gotta pee.' So it was really a couple episodes later when we really started to feel the chemistry with the cast come together. There was a scene in the second episode where Ryan and Seth and Marissa are all on the boardwalk together and Ryan and Marissa are on his bike and she's riding on the handle bars and Seth is on his skateboard -- it just felt really free and very, very real too."
"Summer slowly folded into that in all of her caustic Summer ways and it kind of culminated with their road trip to Tijuana when all of them were in a car together," Schwartz remembered. "That's where we really felt the chemistry come alive."
"When we started out, we were certainly below the radar," Schwartz said of "The O.C.'s" initial buzz factor, or lack thereof. "Fox's intention was, if they picked up the pilot, that we should have the show ready to go in the summer for August. They hadn't done a show like this since '90210.' It'd been quite a while -- over 10 years. And you know, people heard summer programming and they just assumed that meant, 'Well, it'll be here for a few weeks and then that'll be the end.' And, in fact, the Tijuana episode [Season 1, Episode 7, titled 'The Escape'] could very well have been the last episode if the show didn't really catch on. We would've gone away for baseball and just never came back."
Of course, that's far from what happened. "When the show premiered, it didn't do very well. It did OK, but not great. But because it was summer, they were able to air it three times a week. This is going to sound pre-historic -- it was like the birth of TiVo, pre-iTunes, pre-Netflix. If you missed it, you kind of were screwed so the idea that they were able to run it a couple times additionally each week, kind of like a cable show, really helped. We started hearing anecdotally that people were watching the repeats and then, the second week ratings came out and they were better than the first week and then, the following week [was better than the second week]. So we really got a sense that it was growing."
Schwartz said the moment of realization that "The O.C." was a hit came "about five episodes in." "Fox wanted to do a viewing party for the show at some bar in Huntington Beach and we all went from the set because we shot in Manhattan Beach," he recalled. "We all pulled up and opened the doors ... and came out and there were hundreds of kids, screaming, who knew the actors' names, or at least their character names, and wanted pictures and autographs."
"We all looked at each other in that moment and we were like, 'OK. Something is happening here,'" Schwartz said. "You're always the last one to be aware of it because you're in the bubble, making the show."
Despite being the youngest primetime TV creator ever at the time, Schwartz said he didn't have time to feel overwhelmed by that fact. "There was so much to do and it was all moving so fast that there wasn't time to feel a lot of paralyzing pressure because there was just so much work and looking forward," he explained. "There was no way they were going to let me run the show by myself out of the gate because I'd never done it before. I hired this guy, Bob DeLaurentis, to come on and he really taught me a ton."
But come Season 2, Schwartz had stepped outside of the bubble and fan opinion became difficult to ignore, even in the days before Twitter. "For me, I think a lot of that anxiety or second guessing didn't set in until we started heading into the second season," he said. "The first season, we were moving like a freight train. Obviously, there were things that we were sensitive to in terms of how fans were reacting to it, but truthfully, by the time it was getting on the air, if there was a character or a storyline or what have you that people were less enthralled with, we were kind of already almost done with it on our own before it ever got on the air."
Schwartz made the regrettable decision to spend too much time on "The O.C." message boards, which didn't do anyone any favors, he said. "It appealed to my sense of narcissism and masochism -- you get to read things people are writing about you, but they're also writing mean things so it was hard to turn down," he joked. "It was a terrible, terrible thing to do. It was not good for me mentally, emotionally, spiritually and it was not good for the show either because, a lot of times, what people are responding to, they're just reacting in the moment and they don't know necessarily where you're going with a storyline. I think I probably allowed that to start to influence me too much. Now, I'm pretty good at using it as a general barometer, but not allowing it to take on more weight than that."
The O.G. Kaitlin Cooper
Shailene Woodley has broken out of her "Secret Life of the American Teenager" shell recently. After earning rave reviews for her performance in the Oscar-winning movie "The Descendants," she's again getting the critics' attention for her portrayal of a not-so-popular high schooler in "The Spectacular Now." But long before Woodley became an indie movie darling, she was Marissa Cooper's little sister Kaitlin on the first season of "The O.C."
Woodley was only 11 when she started playing the character, who was a mini Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke). She didn't have many lines in the show's debut season, but there were certainly a few memorable ones.
"Shailene was really, really young when she was on the show," Schwartz recalled. "We have this very adorable drawing that she did for us of China, the pony that Kaitlin was riding on the show. She was great in all of her scenes and we always loved her. It was hard to keep her folded into the show as we were following these four teenagers and Jimmy [Tate Donovan] and Julie were splitting up."
By the end of the first season, Kaitlin was off to boarding school and Woodley was, at least temporarily, out of the job. "We had an idea to send her away and then, a couple of years later, the plan was to bring her back. The version of Kaitlin Cooper that we were going to bring back to the show was a little bit older than Shailene would've been able to achieve on her own and was kind of a very different character, which Willa [Holland, who took over in Seasons 3 and 4] was great for. But obviously, Shailene is super talented and it's awesome to see her take off."
The Hanimas That Almost Was
It's impossible to talk about "The O.C." without talking about Chrismukkah, a holiday Seth invented to celebrate both his WASP-y mother's Christian upbringing and that of his New York Jewish father as well. "It was always important to me that Sandy was going to be Jewish and there weren't a lot of Jews that I experienced in Newport Beach," Schwartz said. "Sandy was coming in as this Jewish guy from the Bronx, very much like my dad, [which] would automatically make him an outsider. It also said something about Kirsten [Kelly Rowan] that she would rebel and marry a guy like Sandy and not marry the obvious choice, like Jimmy Cooper. And for Seth, his neurosis was always going to be born out of his Jewish identity. But the idea of this interfaith holiday and that Kirsten was sort of this shiksa goddess and that Seth would have very cannily seen this as an opportunity to really cash in and have eight days of gifts, followed by one day of many, many gifts, also felt very true to his character."
As for the name itself, "it was born in the writer's room and it was really down to Chrismukkah or Hanimas -- those were our choices," Schwartz explained. "We went with Chrismukkah and we probably should've done a better job of trademarking it and selling greeting cards." Of course, Chrismukkah greeting cards do exist now, even though Schwartz isn't profiting. "It was definitely something we had a lot of fun with," he recalled. "There were also a lot of people who said, 'Oh! I celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. My parents are interfaith and now, I can call it Chrismukkah.' So it gave name to something a lot of people were experiencing, but they didn't really know what to call it. "
The Ones That Got Away
In Season 2, Seth, Summer, Ryan and Marissa ditched their Crab Shack hangout for a bit of an edgier one, called the Bait Shop. And with that came Alex Kelley (Olivia Wilde), the bad girl who ran the place. Schwartz once described her as "The O.C.'s" version of Nat of "Beverly Hills 90210" fame -- except she had bright streaks of color in her hair, got emancipated from her parents and was bisexual.
Alex dated Seth for a second, then her ex Jodie (played by "Entourage" star Emmanuelle Chriqui) showed up, but eventually, she started a relationship with Marissa. The storyline was eventually cut because "the network was very nervous," Schwartz previously told ESPN in 2005 before the start of Season 3. "It was an extremely conservative time in our country (thank Janet Jackson for that) and everyone was freaking out. We had a whole episode where every kiss between them was cut out, just so I could get one kiss in the 'Rainy Day Women' episode. I was literally on the phone with Broadcast, Standards and Practices bartering for kisses. It was a battle, and The Powers That Be are part of a big corporation, and were going in front of Congress at the time (every network was) -- so I understand. They are all good people who were under a lot of pressure."
Eight years later, Schwartz still wishes they "could've kept Olivia Wilde for longer," but he does understand why there was so much "nervousness" about the storyline. "For me, looking back, we had really fun characters that the audience really responded to in Season 1 -- Luke and Anna (Samaire Armstrong) and Jimmy Cooper. I would've liked to, in retrospect, kept those characters around longer," Schwartz added. "We always talked about, 'What would happen if Luke and Anna ended up dating?' [They were] the kind of two people who are outcasts from the group. Or Luke and Summer or Anna and Ryan?! There were different kind of permutations that we had flirted with and for reasons that escape me now, we didn't go down that road, but those would've been good characters to have held on and to have continued to explore."
The Ones That Needed Do-Overs
Though Schwartz said there are "a few" storylines he'd do differently, there's one that stands out. "I think, for a lot of us, the Johnny storyline was probably one we'd like to have a do-over on," he admitted of the Season 3 plot centering on Johnny Harper (Ryan Donowho), whose unrequited love for Marissa led to his death when he drunkenly fell off a cliff.
Another one of Marissa's suitors, Oliver Trask (Taylor Handley), previously stirred up a bit of controversy in the middle of Season 1. His severe obsession with Marissa led to him holding her captive at gunpoint in his penthouse, where he was eventually arrested and sent to a rehabilitation clinic.
"I know Oliver was a controversial figure when he came on the show, but people still remember that character so vividly and still want to talk about it and have such a strong reaction to it that I would not have changed that because whether you loved it or hated it or loved to hate or whatever it was, it was memorable," Schwartz explained.
The Truth About Marissa's Death
"Marissa's death [is something] I've given a lot of thought to," Schwartz also mentioned in talking about things he would've done differently. Does he regret killing the character off? "It's just something that gives you pause," he explained. "The day after it aired or the night it aired, there was a real outcry from a big contingency of the fans of the show, those who are not television critics or those who did not post on Television Without Pity ... I think a lot of good stuff happened in Season 4 that came from it, but it was definitely a big decision for the show."
There had long been rumors about whether or not it was Barton's decision to leave the show or if it wasn't, why she was killed off. "It was a hundred percent a creative decision for the show and it was born out of both feeling creatively like it was the direction the show needed to head and also, quite frankly, a function of needing to do something big to shake up the show at the end of that third season to both get the show to come back for a fourth season and, I think, to give the show a real creative jolt in Season 4 and move the show in its own surprising, unexpected direction," Schwartz clarified. "I feel like we're all really proud of Season 4 because it returned a lot of the humor and heart to the show that may have gotten lost in some of the soapier stuff that happened in Season 3. It also walked a really difficult tonal line of being emotional because we had to deal with the fallout of the biggest thing that ever happened on the show and also, I think there was a lot of humor that got mined in that season and a lot of heart -- whether it was how Summer was having her meltdown after Marissa's death by going to Brown and going green or the rise of Taylor Townsend [Autumn Reeser] in Ryan Atwood's life. But Mischa showed up every day and did her job and did a great job and worked really hard so it had nothing to do with her."
In addition to the catchphrases, Chrismukkah and the comic book references (who could forget the Wonder Woman costume and Spider-Man kiss), "The O.C." wouldn't have been what it was without its soundtrack.
"Music was always going to be a big part of the show and although Orange County had its own very distinct musical scene at that time, for me, I wanted the music to really be more reflective of sort of the emotional state of the characters' lives," Schwartz explained. "A lot of the music I was listening to at the time, I was sort of writing into the script. Death Cab was Adam's favorite band at the time so I decided to write that into the show and obviously, that became a big part of the show's musical identity. But basically, around Episode 7, around Tijuana, I had used up all the music on my iPod," he admitted with a laugh.
That's when Alex Patsavas, who has since been nominated for a Grammy, came in. The music supervisor extraordinaire, who has gone on to work on "Grey's Anatomy," "Gossip Girl" and "Mad Men," helped many bands break out in the background of "The O.C." "We spent a lot of time talking about what we wanted the music on the show to be and she just had access to all this music that hadn't even come out yet and had great taste and turned me on to so many great songs and bands and became such an instrumental part of the show and of all the shows that we do," Schwartz said of Patsavas, who's worked with him and former "O.C." executive producer Stephanie Savage on their Fake Empire productions, the company that the two founded in 2010, which has produced "Chuck," "Hart of Dixie" and more.
Though asking Schwartz to pick a favorite musical moment on the series is nearly impossible, he was able to single out some particular scenes. "There's a lot, I gotta be honest," he said. "Personally, the Joseph Arthur song ['Honey and the Moon'] at the end of the pilot was really important because I couldn't really write the end of the show until I found that song. That song felt like it set the mood for what a lot of music on the show would be and it worked just really nicely. I remember Ryan pulling out of the driveway and seeing Marissa at the end of her driveway and the sun's going down and that song playing -- it felt very emotional."
"We had Nadasurf cover OMD's 'If You Leave' for Anna's farewell and that was one that people really responded to," he added.
"... Imogen Heap, 'Hide and Seek' at the end of Season 2, which got parodied on 'SNL' like a few years later, which I take as a good sign," Schwartz said.
"There are so many," he continued. "Smaller moments, quieter moments -- Alexi Murdoch, 'Orange Sky' at the end of Thanksgiving in Season 1. That was a guy singing at the Troubadour and there was like nobody there and I know that song has been used a few times since. You always feel good about the fact that you helped some of these guys make a living."
Plus, Schwartz can't ignore the final musical moment of the series. "You know, I was on a plane like a year ago and I was flipping through the channels on the TV and the 'O.C.' series finale just happened to be on. I haven't watched it since the show went off the air," he admitted. "The Patrick Park song 'Life is a Song' came on and I got a little verklempt. I got a little emotional. I'm not gonna lie."
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