Premiered: August 5, 2003
In the summer of 2003, one year before the glorious Summer of "North Shore," "Quintuplets" and "Method & Red," FOX made a less-aggressive, but more successful push into the realm of year-round programming with the August launch of Josh Schwartz's "O.C.," which took the form of a simple, upper-crust teenage soap opera, but turned out to be smarter and funnier than it had any right to be. The relationship between Benjamin McKenzie's Ryan and Mischa Barton's Marissa was set in motion by the pilot, but it was the unexpected love between Seth (Adam Brody) and Summer (Rachel Bilson), the delicious villainy of Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke) and the surprisingly endearing adult performances (kudos to Peter Gallagher and the perpetually underrated Kelly Rowan) that really sold the show. "The O.C." premiered with 7.5 million viewers and was already building momentum by a September mid-season finale with a cliffhanger in Tijuana. It may have flamed out fast, but for a brief moment, we were all singing along with the Phantom Planet opening.
- Daniel Fienberg