'The O.C.,' 10 years later: Josh Schwartz looks back, part 1
Olivia Wilde as Marissa? Garrett Hedlund as Ryan? And whose idea was Rooney?
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Tell me about the origin of the show’s most famous line: “Welcome to the O.C., bitch. This is how it's done in Orange County!”
Josh Schwartz: Saturday night working on the script. I think we were already underway casting it and I said to Stephanie, "I feel like we have to get the words ‘The O.C.’ into the show." It was that craving: what's the commercial going to be? In part because of calling it “The O.C.” At the time, people were not happy about that. People from Orange County who heard there was a show being filmed about Orange County, they're like, "Nobody calls it the O.C. Why are you doing that? It's just O.C." 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. and it was the ‘hood. And I always found that very funny even if it was unintentional on their part. If anyone was going to deliver that line it was going to have to be Luke. And he was going to have to throw a bitch on the end of it because, you know, he was kicking the crap out of Ryan, “Karate Kid”-style on the beach.
Did you expect it to have the life that it had?
Josh Schwartz: No, no way. But I started hearing stories from friends who were working as like 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. There was that kind of anecdotal evidence that that line was permeating in a way that people were remembering it. So that was cool.
On "Arrested Development," they did some jokes about how no one in Orange County calls it "The O.C."
We debuted in the same season on FOX, and Mitch Hurwitz 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.
You talked about how Fox wanted “90210” to be the model. On “90210,” the parents were so marginal so quickly. You wanted the adults to be maybe not equal but maybe 60/40 part of the show. And you were able to do that, at least in the first season. How tough was that? Was Fox for or against that part of it?
Josh Schwartz: Oh, they were for it. And again it wasn't like, “Here's the tweak on the soap formula that no one has thought about before.” It was just very natural that Sandy was Ryan's way into the show. Therefore, that relationship was going to be really important. And, you know, the Cohen family and Kirsten and then her history with Jimmy living next door and then obviously Ryan's relationship with Marissa and how that was going to play out with Julie and Jimmy. So it very organically allowed for this bimodal approach. But bimodal was not a word I even knew existed; it may not even technically exist but it does in terms of television talk. And so that was kind of organic and pretty natural in the first couple of years of the show to have that be part of it. As the kids start to grow older, obviously it becomes a little bit more challenging.
I was not really the target demo for the show. I was 28 or 29 at the time. I liked the Cohens. Did you get a sense that the teen audience was into the Sandy and Kirsten stuff?
Josh Schwartz: Again, I didn't really watch soaps. For me, I love shows like “Freaks and Geeks” and Stephanie was obsessed with “My So-Called Life.” By the way, it's no accident that what are considered the two best teen dramas of all times only had a run for one season. But that being said, those kind of shows were one season and out, as good as they were. And so you can't go up to Fox and be like, “Okay, what I really want to do is ‘Freaks and Geeks.’” That's not going to fly. So for us it was like, “Well, we have the beaches and we have kids in bikinis and we're giving you all this stuff, the sizzle,” but it's a Trojan horse theory. And hopefully once we get inside, our characters can be a little quirkier, tone can be a little bit more offbeat. We'll still deliver the melodrama and the cliffhangers, but hopefully we can do it in a way that feels surprising.
So we always knew that the kids, hopefully teenagers would watch because of all the parties and all the bad behavior. But 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, 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. And so that became such an important part of the show for kids.
The other balance thing is between the melodrama and the comedy. It was a funny show, self-aware show. You did a lot of meta-stuff.
Josh Schwartz: Yeah. We fully deconstructed the show by the end of season 1.
How did you balance Marissa overdosing in Tijuana with them running into Collin Hanks as the star of “The Valley”?
Josh Schwartz: Well, those that didn't happen simultaneously.
I know, but it’s a show that could encompass both of those things and have Seth analyzing the show as he's in the show.
Josh Schwartz: When it worked, it was really exciting and fun, and I think when we tilted too far to one side, usually we tilted too far to the melodrama side probably. In season 4, we really wanted to go hard back at the stuff that we felt we had gotten away from in the show. So season 4 is relatively light on melodrama. And instead it's, you know, Ché and Seth, and Ché falling in love with Seth's spirit animal. On a vision quest.
And “Je Pense.”
Josh Schwartz: “Je Pense,” yeah, and some of the nuttier notions. But hey, we knew it was the last season, but we enjoyed it. But I think season 1 was very organic. It was just very reflective of how I could do a show like this, the audience was responding to it. You know, Seth was very self-referential was kind of the Greek chorus of the show, and we had “The Valley” be something that the kids watched. But like anything, you're walking a real tightrope and you're going to fall off. But I think what we were most proud of was those moments where all that stuff was really working seamlessly.