‘The O.C.,’ 10 Years Later: Josh Schwartz Looks Back, Part 2

Senior Television Writer
02.22.17 16 Comments

FOX

In 2013, TV critic Alan Sepinwall spoke with Josh Schwartz, the creator of ‘The O.C.’ to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the show’s premiere with a two-part interview on the show’s run. We’re re-running that now in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the show’s final episode.

Tonight is the 10th anniversary of the premiere of “The O.C.” on FOX. Last night, I posted the first part of a very long interview with the series” creator Josh Schwartz, focusing on the show”s origins, casting the main characters and developing the sound of “The O.C.” In part 2, we spend more time on the ups and downs of the series as it continued well past the point anyone expected it to, and as rookie showrunner Schwartz had to figure out what to do after cramming three seasons” worth of plot into his first one.

(Schwartz begins sipping his coffee)

All right: Oliver.

(Schwartz just barely avoids spitting out his coffee.)

Josh Schwartz: God bless him. I love Oliver.

You did those first seven episodes through the Tijuana trip, and everybody thinks it”s all amazing. And not long after, Oliver turns up..

Josh Schwartz: He had one scene, I think, in the Chrismukkah episode. So he didn’t really come into the show until January.

Okay. But I’m saying that Oliver was really the first creative bump in what had been a pretty smooth road to that point.

Josh Schwartz: Well let me just take a moment to remind your readers that we had 27 episodes our first season. So two seasons of a cable show, four seasons of “Downton Abbey.”

Here’s the thing about Oliver, too. I mean, this is the reality, that I certainly have come to learn having done this now for ten years, especially as social media as evolved. People like yourself and other like-minded people, had a much bigger issue with Oliver than your average 10th grade viewer. So that is a moment where not just the bimodality of the show, but the bimodality of the audience became more apparent. Meaning the Oliver story, I was hearing from people, “My kid is on the edge of their seat,” or I would hear from people when Marissa shot Trey that girls were crying, and then some critics would roll their eyes at that same stuff. So we were walking a lot of tight ropes.

Okay, so to jump ahead for a minute, you kill Marissa at the end of season 3, which to a certain like-minded viewer…

Josh Schwartz: I think I did it for you. Just to get you off my back.

… for the adult audience, this is a cause for celebration. But for the teenage girls, this is the worst thing you’ve ever done.

Josh Schwartz: Yeah. And by the way, look at the ratings in season four.

Clearly there were more of them than there were of us.

Josh Schwartz: Yeah. And that has been a big lesson for me, that the Twitterverse is a one-to-one ratio. For every one person who tweets about that, that represents one person. That’s not one person representing a thousand people.

And that was a very difficult decision creatively. It was born out of a number of issues; creative, cast chemistry, ratings. There was a version of the show not coming back in season 4. We had a new network president. They had kind of moved away from doing programming like “The O.C.,” and there was a shot that there was no season 4. And on the one hand it was, as you said, cause for celebration amongst a certain kind of viewer and heresy amongst more viewers. And actually, that night I went online and I was like, “Oh, dear God, what have I done? I can’t believe I listened to Sepinwall.”

It’s all my fault.

Josh Schwartz: It’s always all your fault. But I”d been wanting to correct the show for critics who felt like the show had lost what they really enjoyed about it in season 1 and season 2.

Chrismukkah: whose idea?

Josh Schwartz: Hard to say now. With the actual name, it was either going to be Hannamas or Chrismukkah. But it was the idea of the Cohens being half-Jewish. The idea of being Jewish in Newport Beach was something that was very important to me as a part of the show. And this idea of Seth being a guy who was an outsider but also relishes outsider status; whereas some kids would feel like they didn’t know what to celebrate or how to feel about their identity, Seth very quickly would embrace the idea that this is perfect. Eight days of gifts followed by one day of many, many gifts. He exploited this holiday. We should have done a better job of trademarking it.

I totally skipped past Captain Oats.

Josh Schwartz: That was Jane Espenson. She was only with us for the six or seven episodes of the summer helping us break story. She wrote it in as a throwaway line: “Don’t talk about Captain Oats that way!” And I just thought it was hilarious and then like any joke I just couldn’t let it go and had to just keep telling it. And my dad worked for Hasbro, so My Little Pony was a big part of that. I wanted to give Summer her own version of Captain Oats.

So you get to the end of season 1, Luke has been pretty much defanged. He’s part of the group. Jimmy and Julie have broken up. Both of those guys you sent away.

Josh Schwartz: And Anna. Not smart on my behalf. Part of it was I had never done this before, so the learning curve was steep. Part of it was I didn’t watch a lot of these shows, and the ones that I loved did not make it past one season. So there wasn’t a lot of instruction. If I could go back in time and do it all over again I would have for sure kept Anna and Luke in the show. The Jimmy thing was more of a financial thing, but I would have loved to have found a way to keep him in the show, too. There was more mileage to gain from those characters, and part of what I think made season 1 so fun for people was we didn’t really know what we were doing. And we were having a blast. I think that was felt. I think you could feel that. We were going for it. It was going to be big and memorable. And we were going to take the villain of the pilot and by the end of his arc on season 1, he was going to be the most sympathetic character on the show. And we cycled through a lot of stories.

So fast.

Josh Schwartz: So fast. That was fun for us and no one had said to put on the brakes or asked if we ever thought about what’s going to come after this season. So I think that’s part of what made the show fun to watch. The very things that made the show so fun to watch in that first season became problematic later on ’cause we burned through so much story. So if I could do it all over again, I would have slowed down aspects of those stories and we probably could have kept those guys around. We always talked about Ryan/Anna. We always talked about Luke/Summer. There’s all those kind of combinations – Seth/Marissa, we flirted with the idea. There’s a moment in season 2 where you think maybe they’re heading that way toward each other. When we were trying to stay away from that of just re-pairing people, but those characters that you introduce in your first season are core characters and it’s very, very hard to bring characters in who matter as much or ever feel as organically part of the group as those first season characters. We probably didn’t help ourselves in season 2 by trying to bring in so many people at once.

Yes, there was Zach and Alex and DJ.

Josh Schwartz: And Lindsay. Some of them worked better than others, but the audience wants to see who they want to see and then they don’t want to see a whole bunch of new people all at once. They want to see the core characters. Lessons learned.

So basically you had to start over because you told the stories…

Josh Schwartz: We completed the story. Ryan went back to Chino. The show’s over. Yeah. No, no one really prepared me that there were other seasons to come.

Whose idea was the upside-down Spider-Man kiss?

Josh Schwartz (humbly): That was mine. I don’t like to take too much credit; put, in parenthesis, “humbly.”

Okay.

Josh Schwartz: The idea was that this was going to be Seth’s ultimate romantic fantasy, that he was going to get Summer back and not only that but get her back as if he was Spiderman. That was really fun to do. And honestly, I just enjoyed introducing rain to Newport Beach and the idea that rain could be a sweeps episode. “It’s raining. Oh, my God!”

Season 2 also gives us a new Trey, Logan Marshall-Green.

Josh Schwartz: Yeah. Logan was great. I mean, Logan really came in and brought a good level of danger to the show. I think that’s one of those storylines that was more on the melodrama side but I think really worked.

The Imogen Heap song.

Josh Schwartz: Yeah, Imogen Heap. And that’s funny. That was a song heard early on in season 2, and I said to Alex, “Can we please just get it and hold it? There’s going to be the right time for this song.” That end of season 2 was the right moment.

What did you think when “SNL” did the parody years later?

Josh Schwartz: I was thrilled. I mean, it’s an honor to be parodied by “SNL,” those Lonely Island guys got their start doing “The Boo,” which was their online parody of “The O.C.” And every time I’ve ever seen them they’ve been incredibly nice. There’s still stuff that are surfacing. There’s still like Internet recuts of things that are set to the Imogen Heap song. I just saw a recut of the Red Wedding from “Game of Thrones” set to “Hide and Seek.” So, that’s awesome. I’m proud of that.

All the new characters you introduced that season you cycled through and you were done with by the end of that year.

Josh Schwartz: Yeah. Zach stuck around longer. Alex, we would have liked to have kept around longer. There was a lot of discomfort about the Marissa/Alex storyline.

Okay. Let’s talk about that.

Josh Schwartz: We were living in the long shadow of Nipplegate at the Super Bowl and broadcast standards and practices got very intense around that time. I think that storyline made people nervous.

Okay.

Josh Schwartz: The other thing I forgot to mention that I haven’t really talked about very much is in between season one and season two they wanted me to do another show. They originally wanted it to be a spin-off, and they wanted it to be about Anna. I didn’t really know what that show was going to be. So we had done 27 episodes (in season 1), and I wrote a lot that season. It was a pretty long season, and then I had a two-week hiatus during which I was supposed to write a pilot for this other show and then spend a little while battling about whether this show was going to happen or if it wasn”t. Finally, I was like, “I have to focus on ‘The O.C.” I have to focus on the whole reason we’re here and kind of pull the plug on myself,” just because I was feeling like completely pulled in all different directions.

I”ll be seeing J.J. Philbin later today.

Josh Schwartz: We had a bunch of great writers who stayed with the show. J.J. was hilarious and John Stephens, Steph, Bob De Laurentiis, Leila Gerstein, who now has created “Hart of Dixie.” We had really, really good writers, and we kind of ran with the same small cadre of writers for the last couple years. I think everybody looked at each other at the end of season three and said, “All right, we are not here to do the Johnny and Chilli story. Why are we here and what do we want to do?” I wanted to do the show that these guys wanted to come work on to begin with. That was a really fun season for everybody because they’re really funny writers and quirky writers, and I think got the opportunity to really display that.

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