- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.

A moment of respectful silence, please, for Fox’s departing “The O.C.”

Yes, the drama wiped out in the ratings like a klutzy Southern California surfer. Yes, it lost its storytelling punch in season three and then really bummed out fans with the violent death of Marissa, played by Mischa Barton.

Let’s give credit where credit’s due, though. “The O.C.” brought dramatized adolescent angst back to TV, spawned hundreds of tabloid headlines and helped introduce such popular indie bands as the Killers, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie to new legions of fans.

Set in the Orange County city of Newport Beach, the show even managed to make cultural and economic waves: Residents who knew better began referring to the county with the artificially hip “the” in front of O.C., and the postcard-perfect coastal town enjoyed a bump in tourism.

“The O.C.” generated a reality-TV boomlet, with MTV’s “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” and Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County” following in its footsteps.

Not bad for a four-season, 92-episode series about the loves and lives of rich, golden California teenagers — one even named Summer, to drive home the point — and the parents who watched over them, or not, depending on their own foibles.

“Overall, I’m incredibly proud of the run the show had,” series creator Josh Schwartz said as production ended this month. “We were filming on location, and there were packs of teenagers screaming for autographs when the cast walked by, and crying that the show was coming to an end.

“We were 24 hours away from wrapping the show, and it was surreal to have that level of emotion from our audience,” Mr. Schwartz says.

The series finale airs Thursday at 9 p.m., and he vows it won’t leave viewers hanging.

“We went into this season sort of assuming that it was going to be the last season,” Mr. Schwartz says, “so we were able to build naturally to this final episode and do the finale the way we always planned.”

The conclusion will focus on the show’s core — the affluent Cohen family of Newport Beach and the needy young man, Ryan, the Cohens took in, he says. The hope is that fans will find it fun, emotional and “really satisfying,” Mr. Schwartz says.

Will Marissa, killed in a car crash in last season’s finale, manage to reappear?

“All of the characters of the show will be touched on in some way,” Mr. Schwartz responds while carefully guarding the final plot twists — including the romantic fates of couples Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) and Taylor (Autumn Reeser) and Seth (Adam Brody) and Summer (Rachel Bilson).

All that, and an earthquake hit the fictional Newport Beach in the Feb. 8 episode, imperiling pregnant Kirsten Cohen (Kelly Rowan) and others.

“The O.C.” itself rattled the TV landscape when it debuted, notes Mr. Schwartz, who at the time was just 26 and a recent graduate of the University of Southern California. The show’s young actors became stars, he says, “very, very quickly, within two months of the show airing. It was nuts.

“To have had the experience and see those kids be in an airport and walk by a magazine stand and the magazine covers are the cast of your show — it’s exciting,” he adds. So was the fact “that we all were able to work together for this time and kind of grow together. I mean, we all really did grow up together. I feel like I did. This is like college.”

Meanwhile, Newport Beach got a few lessons in the power of TV, according to the town’s mayor.

“I think there were some people in town not too pleased about how Newport Beach was portrayed in the series, but I think everybody understands that TV distorts reality,” Mayor Steven Rosansky says, recognizing a truth known to anybody who used to watch the ‘80s serial “Dallas.”

Even as some grumbled about “The O.C.’s” satiric depiction of a hedonistic and shallow Newport, the city gained a higher profile and an influx of visitors, Mr. Rosansky says.

The local visitors bureau capitalized on the attention with a map of locations referred to in the series — although production mostly took place in Los Angeles — and by recording the hand- and footprints of some cast members in concrete, he says.

Still, the show proved unable to hold its audience, slipping to about 7 million weekly viewers during 2004-05 and then to fewer than 6 million last season. Since returning in November after Fox wrapped post-season baseball coverage, “The O.C.” has averaged about 4 million viewers.

A time-slot change, to the highly competitive 9 p.m. Thursday slot — opposite CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and then ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” — contributed to the slump and probably hastened the defection of fickle young viewers.

Does Mr. Schwartz long for a different ending, with more seasons still ahead?

“Coulda, woulda, shoulda, I guess,” he says, the verbal equivalent of a shrug. He calls four seasons “a pretty … good run. Especially for a show like this, where the audience we’re speaking to is younger and moves on faster.

“I’d never worked on a television series in any capacity before it began, so it was learn as you go, and I certainly learned a lot,” Mr. Schwartz says. “To be able to learn on a show that had the impact on its audience this show had is a really incredible gift.”

He’s already looking ahead to new projects, including adapting the book “Looking for Alaska” for film and producing two television pilots.

So what about the future of Newport Beach? Will it miss basking in its fake counterpart’s limelight?

“It ran its course, and we’ll wait for the next show. … I’m sure some creative television person will create another show,” Mr. Rosanksy says.


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