14 Sunny Facts About The O.C.
Josh Schwartz—who had never run a TV show before—was only 26 years old when he brought the idea of a nighttime teen soap to Fox, making him the youngest showrunner in the history of network television. Fox picked up the pilot and ordered an unprecedented 27 episodes for the first season (the final season had only 16).
The O.C. premiered on August 5, 2003, early enough in the season that a lot of competing shows were still in reruns. It followed the lives of a group of affluent teens (and their parents) living in Newport Beach, California. But unlike predecessors like Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210, The O.C. focused more on character than plot, and featured characters who were outsiders, such as Ryan Atwood, played by Ben McKenzie. The show was also self-aware in its humor.
The O.C. ran for four seasons until Fox canceled it after a low-rated third season, which ended in 2006 with the producers killing off one of its main characters. On February 22, 2007—just over 10 years ago—the series took its final bow.
Years later, The O.C. is remembered for leading to a slate of California-based reality shows (like Laguna Beach and The Real Housewives of Orange County) and other meta nighttime soaps (like Desperate Housewives), the creation of Chrismmukah, and for the show’s killer soundtrack, which helped launch indie rock music into the mainstream. Here are 14 sunny facts about the series.
1. THE PRODUCERS USED A TROJAN HORSE TECHNIQUE TO CONVINCE FOX TO DO THE SHOW.
Josh Schwartz told The New York Times that he was a fan of canceled-too-soon shows like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, and My So-Called Life. “You can’t tell a network that’s what you want to make because they’ll just say, ‘Those shows lasted 15 episodes and they’re off the air and we don’t want them.’ But if instead you go to Fox and say, ‘This is your new 90210’—that’s something they can get excited about.”
Schwartz and fellow executive producer Stephanie Savage pitched Fox the concept of a juvenile delinquent from Chino (Ryan Atwood) infiltrating the glamour of Orange County’s gated communities. “And really what we hoped we had were these characters that were a little bit funnier and more soulful and different and specific than the kinds you usually see in that genre,” Schwartz explained. “They would be the soldiers inside our Trojan horse.”
2. INITIALLY, FOX WAS CONCERNED ABOUT SETH COHEN’S PERSONALITY.
Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) wasn’t as hunky as Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), which concerned the network because “this was a character that might hue too closely to the Freaks and Geeks/Undeclared world of shorter-lived teen soaps, or teen shows,” Schwartz told TIME. “Then Fox had their eye on it, and I was always told, ‘If Ryan is the Luke Perry, then who is the Jason Priestley?’ I was like, 'Welp, we’re not doing 90210.'" But Seth’s sardonic nerdiness ended up becoming a cultural touchstone for the show. “So that went away when we cast Adam Brody, who came in and was really funny and charming, but the network also felt like would be someone who girls would find appealing,” Schwartz said. “But that was a big risk at the time.”
3. THE SHOW’S TITLE CAME FROM SCHWARTZ’S COLLEGE DAYS.
Schwartz grew up in Rhode Island but attended college at the University of Southern California. “When I was in college, all these kids from Orange County, they’d be like, ‘I’m from the O.C.,’ as if they are from the L.B.C. [Long Beach County] and it was the ‘hood. And I always found that very funny even if it was unintentional on their part,” he told HitFix.
As Luke Ward (Chris Carmack) beat up Ryan, Karate Kid-style, at a bonfire on the beach during the pilot, he uttered the now-famous catchphrase, “Welcome to The O.C., bitch.” Schwartz had no idea the line would endure. “I started hearing stories from friends who were working as day traders on the floor in New York and when they would close a sale they’d be like, ‘Welcome to the O.C., bitch!’ And throw the money at each other.”
4. THE PRODUCERS WORRIED “CALIFORNIA” WAS TOO POPULAR TO USE AS A THEME SONG.
Schwartz told HitFix he thought everybody already knew the Phantom Planet song “California,” which became the show’s theme song. “It had already been on the radio. And so we thought, 'We can’t use that song, it’s already out there,'” he said. They decided to edit the song into a “sizzle reel,” something they had to show the network before they finished the pilot. “And what we found was nobody really knew the song,” Schwartz said. “Everybody’s like, ‘What’s that song? That song is incredible.’ And we realized that just because me and [producer] Steph [Savage] and some of the writers had known that song, that song didn’t really get played that much outside of L.A. and KROQ or whatever at the time. So we’re like, ‘Okay, people don’t really know that song.’”
5. THE MUSIC BECAME ITS OWN CHARACTER.
“I always viewed it as wanting the music to feel like an extension of the emotional lives of the characters, which I guess sounds kind of pretentious,” Schwartz told TIME. “When I was sitting down to write the pilot, there was this Joseph Arthur song that plays at the end of the pilot, and when I heard that song, it was like, ‘Oh, okay, this is how I want the end of the show to feel.’ That it was less about the place and more about how our characters were feeling.” He said the music they licensed just happened to be the kind of bands and artists the cast and crew were listening to at the time, which was indie rock. “It was cheaper to license, so that was a happy accident.”
Music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas had a process for getting music on the show. “I would send out weekly [compilation CDs] with any music that I felt was in the world, which then we discussed at length,” Patsavas told MTV. “If someone responded to a certain band, I’d send Josh or Stephanie or one of the editors more music. Then, I’d pitch for scenes and moments. How are we telling the story? How do these bands and songs and lyrics support the drama?” Eventually, the show started promoting music from bigger bands like U2 and Coldplay.
6. THE CREATOR OF ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT WANTED THE CAST TO MAKE A CAMEO ON HIS SHOW.
premiered a few months before Arrested Development, which is also set in Orange County and also aired on Fox. One of the comedy series' running jokes is that a character will say “The O.C.” and Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) will correct them and say, “Don’t call it that.”
Schwartz told HitFix that Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development, "asked if our actors could come on his show to play themselves as the stars of The O.C. I was worried that was one layer of meta too many, so I said no.”
7. THE SEASON 2 FINALE LED TO AN ICONIC SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE PARODY.
Spoiler alert: Season two ends with a rough and tumble fight between Ryan and his brother, Trey (played by Logan Marshall-Green). It looks as if Trey will kill his brother, so Marissa intervenes. She grabs Trey’s gun and shoots and kills Trey to protect Ryan. As the events unfurl, Imogen Heap’s melancholic “Hide and Seek” plays over the scene. Almost two years after the episode aired, SNL’s Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis, and guest host Shia LaBeouf took turns shooting each other in the digital short. The parody currently has more YouTube views than the finale clip.
8. SANDY COHEN WAS THE ANCHOR OF THE SHOW.
Besides highlighting the lives of teens, Schwartz also wanted to use the moral and wise Sandy Cohen (played by Peter Gallagher) to project what a good father looked like. “One of the things very early on that we realized was that the biggest wish fulfillment aspect of the show wasn’t the big houses and it wasn’t the cool cars or clothes," Schwartz told HitFix. "It was this idea of the Cohen family and having Sandy as a father. There were so many kids out there that would love to have been adopted by a family like the Cohens, and would love to have a father figure in their life like Sandy.”
9. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MARISSA AND ALEX MADE EXECUTIVES UNCOMFORTABLE.
During the second season, Marissa dates bisexual Alex (Olivia Wilde), who runs the local music venue The Bait Shop. The “Nipplegate” Janet Jackson Super Bowl had recently occurred, which led to network conservatism. “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,” Schwartz told ESPN. “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. But they wanted that story wrapped up as fast as humanly possible and Alex moving on out of The O.C.” The network got their wish—Wilde left the show mid-season. “But Olivia is a superstar,” Schwartz said. “She was great in the part. I would have her back on the show in a heartbeat.”
10. THE O.C. MADE DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE FAMOUS.
The Seattle-based indie band gained notoriety when Seth Cohen kept talking about how much he loved the band. A few of the band’s songs popped up on the show, too. In April 2005, the band appeared as themselves and performed at The Bait Shop. “If anything, it was really a point of self-awareness for us,” the band’s bassist, Nick Harmer, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “We were like, ‘You mean, there’s some credibility that the character gets for saying our band name? It’s not a laughing point? They’re not making fun of us?’” A few months later, their major-label debut, Plans, was released and ended up going platinum and being nominated for a Grammy.
11. TATE DONOVAN SAID SOME OF THE YOUNG CAST MEMBERS WERE “DIFFICULT.”
In an interview with Vulture for the show’s 10th anniversary, Tate Donovan—who played Marissa's father, Jimmy, and directed some episodes—said that, "By the time I started to direct, the kids on the show had developed a really bad attitude. They just didn’t want to be doing the show anymore. It was pretty tough; they were very tough to work with. The adults were all fantastic, total pros. But you know how it is with young actors—and I know because I was one of them once. When you achieve a certain amount of success, you want to be doing something else. I mean, one of them turned to me and said, 'This show is ruining my film career,' and he had never done a film before. You just can’t help but sort of think that your life and your career are going to go straight up, up, up. So they were very difficult."
12. TURKEY ADAPTED THE O.C. INTO A SHOW.
In 2013, Turkey created a version of The O.C. for Star TV called Med Cezir (The Tide). Like the American version, it featured attractive teens and their attractive parents ensnared in weekly melodrama.
13. THE PRODUCERS BANNED THE CHARACTERS FROM SMOKING.
In the pilot, Marissa and Ryan meet-cute in his driveway. Ryan is smoking a cigarette when Marissa saunters over to him and asks for one. “That is the last time any characters, or at least teenage characters, smoke a cigarette on broadcast television,” Schwartz told MTV. “It was such a battle to get that scene to stay in the show. We had to make sure that at the end of the scene, when Sandy comes down the driveway and breaks them up, he says, ‘No smoking in my house!’ And they put out the cigarette. That was it; you could never smoke again.”
14. TATE DONOVAN AGREES: JIMMY COOPER IS A TERRIBLE FATHER.
Donovan played the father of Marissa and Kaitlin Cooper. He divorces their mom, Julie, and becomes both an absentee and negligent father. Entertainment Weekly named Jimmy as one of TV’s worst dads, a sentiment Donovan agreed with. “We were shooting the show, and it starts to air, and my sister, who is the mother of three teenagers, calls me up and goes, ‘You know, you’re the worst dad of all time. You’re such a terrible father I can’t believe it.’ And I go, ‘Really? I am?’” Donovan told Vulture. “And so I go up to Josh [Schwartz] and Stephanie [Savage] and say, ‘I’m a really bad dad,’ and they’re like, ‘No, you’re not, you’re a great dad!’ I was not a great dad. I was letting my kid do whatever she wants. I left her drunk on the steps. What kind of parents don’t notice their daughter is drunk and passed out? I kept telling them I was a bad father and they said, ‘No, no.’ Ten years later I’m on this list [of bad TV dads] and I feel vindicated.”
All images courtesy of The O.C./Facebook.