With the curtain drawn on its ratings-challenged season 3 and Marissa Cooper's shining face, The O.C. begins its ''college years'' on Thursday (Nov. 2) in the toughest time slot on television. Series creator Josh Schwartz called EW to discuss what viewers can expect now that he and the other writers have a bit of cred to regain and nothing to lose.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, Fox put you up against CSI and Grey's Anatomy. That was nice.
JOSH SCHWARTZ: That was really nice. Actually, when I found out Grey's Anatomy was moving to Thursday, I called Fox and asked if they would loan out American Idol to The CW, just so we could complete the trifecta.
That's a fun way of approaching it.
One of the things about this year, and I think it's reflected in everyone's attitude both on screen and off, is that we all became really sanguine about the ratings. They're sort of out of our power. And the time slot being as bad as it was, it became really liberating. Last year, some decisions were made the tone of the show kind of went in a way that was about, like, not getting canceled. When you need to pump out 25 promotable moments a season, characters get sacrificed along the way, and tone gets sacrificed, and humor, and all that kind of stuff. So I think that was kind of dictating some of the creative decisions last year. This year, we're just sort of like, Anything goes. F--- it. You know, we can say no if things are asked of us, and we can really just do the show we believe in.
How much more involved are you, personally, in this season than you've been in the past?
I work with a really great group of writers and producers. Last year, I was not writing as much, and I was definitely pretty fried. It was a testament to all of them that the show went on. And this year, everyone's really come into their own. I've gotten more involved creatively than last year, but it's also a total team effort. Some of my favorite new characters this year were created by other writers, and it's just fun for me to be able to write them.
Like Che [Everwood's Chris Pratt, who'll play a friend of Summer's in college]. But for the first time ever, I'm actually loving all of the new characters, and I especially enjoy Eric and Brad. They're sort of Kaitlin's traveling eunuchs. She just orders them around.
Ooh, that's good. I'd jotted down ''lapdogs,'' but ''eunuchs'' is better.
They're eunuch lapdogs. But yeah, it's great having Chris Pratt. Rachel [Bilson, who plays Summer] has had a great time playing opposite him. He's also the sweetest guy off screen, so he's just brought a really fresh energy to the cast this year. And Willa [Holland, who plays Kaitlin] has been great this season she's a really fun character to write, because she just doesn't give a s---.
It seems like Taylor's character is the same way.
Yeah. Autumn Reeser and Melinda Clarke [Julie] are very similar in that regard. You can give both of them anything to do, and it'll feel real and possible.
And they can just look kind of psychotic, but really really pretty while they do it so they can pull anything off!
There's nothing more dangerous than a beautiful psychotic... As a mother-daughter duo, Julie and Kaitlin are like the anti-Gilmore Girls. The evil, manipulative Gilmore Girls.
Right, with better banter. It seems like in past seasons there've always been these floods of new characters, a lot of whom fans don't even like. Will you focus more on the core group in season 4?
Yeah, definitely. I think Marissa's death kind of creates real emotional stakes for our core characters, and gave us some real momentum in terms of focusing on them.
With Seth and Ryan at home for the fall semester, it'll be a good chance to explore the Cohen family dynamic. I get the impression that's what fans have been begging for...
Yeah, and they're going to get it. With the way we ended last season, Ryan's really effed up, and the Cohens need to rescue him and save him. It's a battle for Ryan's soul. But it's legitimized by the stakes. There'll be a lot more interplay; you'll get a lot of Seth-Ryan time this year. We wanted to kind of explode some of the dynamics from the previous season, and return to the core ones.
What about Seth and Summer?
This year we have the opportunity to do something real with them, something a lot of young adults have experienced the long-distance relationship. The idea that you're done with high school, you're off to college, and you're supposed to go find yourself. Maybe the person you're becoming and the person you were are two very different people. And you know, she's off partying and having a good time, saving chickens and trees.
And knocking pieces of wood together to make music.
Exactly. She's playing blocks of wood, while Che jams on the didgeridoo. So it's an opportunity for us to explore that dynamic without necessarily having a love triangle. Che is a threat only in that he's like a Svengali for her in this new incarnation of Summer. He can lead her further astray from who she was, but he's not a threat romantically.
It seems like Summer's set to make the biggest transformation this season.
She has reinvented herself, and she is transforming herself, but it's not necessarily for the right reasons. Everything in Newport reminds her of Marissa, and so she's completely abandoned that. She's taken it too far to the extreme. Rachel's been great at hitting all the levels of her character in her performance.
Yeah, she had some high-stakes emotional scenes at the beginning of episode 4. I was seriously laughing and crying at the same time.
Well, that's what we're here to do this year. You won't even know which tears are which.
Great, bring it on. What about Mother Theresa (Navi Rawat)?
[Laughs] No plans at this time.
Her kid is so obviously Ryan's.
I'll let you quote that theory.
There's rumors of a Ryan-Taylor romance. True or false?
That dynamic begins in episode 4. If they'd ever have a romance, they'd have to be friends first, and it's an unlikely friendship. But she's the ideal person to pull Ryan out of the darkness. She's like a force of nature, and she's, like, so screwy in her own universe. Taylor would be the most interesting person for him to butt up against, because they're so opposite.
Anything else you want to tease?
Best Chrismukkah episode ever.
Oh, yay! Does Summer save it again?
No, it's totally different. What else can I tell you? Chris Brown comes on for the second half of the season. Julie Cooper: The Urban Cougar. That's what she becomes. Oh, and keep your eye on that dating service. Let's just say… Newport Madam, Julie Cooper. She's totally out of control this year.
I never really understood how that ''dating service'' functions…
Oh, you will understand this year.
So we'll see a lot of Julie, a lot of Cohens, a lot of Summer-Seth...
You'll see a lot of what you want to see. The show we really want to do and the show that fans really want to see.
How long can the series go on?
I feel like creatively, the show's been reinvented this year. I view the first episode as a sort of pilot. But the alotted time that we can run is really out of my power. I don't know if this will be the last season, but it will be the best.