The O.C. has managed to stay in the cultural zeitgeist well past its time on air, thanks to a combination of streaming, early aughts nostalgia, and a seemingly undying love for the phrase “Welcome to the O.C, bitch!” After 20 years of cast interviews, rewatch podcasts, and even an academic course, you may not think there’s much information left to mine from one of the most iconic TV shows of the 21st century.
Nevertheless, the series’ first official oral history, Welcome To The O.C: The Oral History, will most likely satisfy any O.C.-heads (Newpsies?) craving a glimpse into the backstage drama, network chaos, on-set romance, and, of course, the show’s iconic music.
Written by Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall, The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, and executive producer Stephanie Savage, the riveting book features enthralling and often hilarious interviews with the entire principal cast, memorable guest stars, directors, producers, and even some big-name musicians whose work was featured on the show. The oral history is both a story about a once-in-a-lifetime hit—led by the youngest television creator in history at the time (a 26-year-old Schwartz)—and the highly competitive landscape of network television in the early 2000s.
Below, see some of the juiciest nuggets from the tell-all book, out Nov. 28.
Why did Marissa Cooper die in Season 3? It’s complicated.
Unlike many of the actors playing teens on The O.C., Mischa Barton had already made somewhat of a name for herself as a model/actress. She was also juggling major brand deals outside of the show thanks to her momager, Nuala Quinn-Barton. According to several people in the book, Barton and her mother were both unhappy with her role on the show by Season 3. While Barton was exhausted from “working all the time,” her mother was anticipating a bigger opportunity that would place her “in the company of some other young female Hollywood actors.”
“As time went on, she had a lot of responsibilities outside the show, which I think contributed to her feelings of unhappiness,” Savage said.
Multiple sources confirmed that Barton was “never petulant” on set. However, Fox ordered The O.C.’s producers to write a big, “promotable” storyline for Season 3 or else the show would be canceled. That memo from Fox happened to coincide with the writers running out of ideas for Marissa—plus, Barton and her mother’s restlessness. So they made the tough decision to have Marissa die in a car accident in the Season 3 finale.
“We thought we could do this,” Schwartz said. “It would be shocking, but it would reinvigorate the show creatively. Because it would so fundamentally shake up some of the dynamics of the show, which had probably started to grow stale at that point.” In hindsight, Schwartz says he wishes he could’ve experimented with Marissa’s character more, but the show’s fate at the time was “up in the air.” (And The O.C. would ultimately be canceled after its fourth season.)
Chris Pine may have starred in The O.C. if not for his “bad skin.”
It’s hard to imagine Chris Pine (the hottest famous Chris, to some) being discriminated against for his looks. But that seemed to be the case when he auditioned for the part of Ryan Atwood, which ultimately went to fellow newcomer Ben McKenzie. According to casting director Patrick Rush, Pine lost out on the role, despite being “really good,” because his skin was too distracting.
“I hate saying this, but it’s the truth: Chris Pine was at the age where he was experiencing really bad skin problems,” Rush says in the book. “And it was at that point where it looked insurmountable. And as a kid who grew up with horrible skin, it just broke my heart. But Chris Pine’s fine now. He’s all right.”
A year after The O.C., Pine got his big break playing Anne Hathaway’s love interest in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. And the rest is history.
Josh Schwartz silenced a Supreme at an O.C. watch party.
One of The O.C.’s executive producers, McG, would hold weekly watch parties for the show at his West Hollywood home. High-profile guests included Orange County native Gwen Stefani, Sam Rockwell, Justin Timberlake, and Pamela Anderson and her then-husband Tommy Lee. The most surprising guest listed is probably Diana Ross, who showed up one time with television producer Leonard Goldberg and his wife. Apparently, she was too chatty for Schwartz’s taste.
“Diana Ross was talking to Leonard at one point next to me on the couch,” Schwartz recalled. “And without even thinking about what I was doing, I shushed her. And then I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I just shushed Diana Ross!’ I was so intensely into the show that I couldn’t help myself. I think she was mildly offended and then moved on.”
Not every indie-rock band was psyched to be featured on The O.C.
The O.C. captured the early 2000s alternative music scene like no other show, and was able to boost many of its featured artists’ careers, including Rooney and Death Cab for Cutie. However, two buzzy bands who were approached for the soundtrack—Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys—wanted no association with the show. And it turns out they didn’t need it.
“‘Clap Your Hands Say Yeah,’ we began to refer to as ‘Clap Your Hands Say No,’” Schwartz said about the Arcade Fire track. “They did some interview where they went out of their way to say, ‘We’ll never be on The O.C.’”
“Before Season Three, Arctic Monkeys had just come out with a song, ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco,’” editor Matt Ramsey added. “We wanted to put it in some big montage. And Arctic Monkeys was like, ‘No, we don’t want to be one of these O.C. bands.’”
Fox didn’t like cigarettes or female orgasms on the show.
Sex and drugs are a staple of most teen soaps nowadays. And yet, Fox executives were initially hesitant about a notable Season 1 interaction between Ryan and Marissa where he puts his cigarette in her mouth.
“It was pretty much unheard of for anyone on TV at that time to smoke a cigarette, let alone a teenager,” Schwartz said. “[Executive producer] Dave Bartis took me to lunch with the broadcast standards guys at the network, and basically the whole meeting was about getting the cigarette approved.”
Ultimately, the moment stayed in, thanks to a subsequent scene of Sandy Cohen (the lovable family patriarch, played by Peter Gallagher) scolding Ryan over his smoking habit.
When it came to sex, the show had a much looser leash—which is evident by the amount of adults who have sex with teenagers on the show. While these predatory interactions were fine, the network drew a line at showing female pleasure.
“That got pushback,” Savage said. “Showing female pleasure of any kind was problematic. In an episode that I wrote, Summer [Rachel Bilson] had a line where she said that Seth [Adam Brody] didn’t have to do anything. He could just lie there like a buffet, and she’d serve herself. I think that line got cut. I was going to write an article for a magazine called ‘The Year Summer Never Came.’ There was an episode in the [O.C.] bible called ‘As Autumn Comes, So Does Summer.’”
The writers knew “Welcome to the O.C., bitch” would be an instant catchphrase.
One of the silliest and most iconic scenes on The O.C. is when Ryan gets into a fight with school bully Luke Ward (Chris Carmack) at his first O.C. beach house party. After punching Ryan into the sand, Luke taunts, “Welcome to the O.C., bitch!,” which formally kicks off Ryan’s misadventures in the affluent SoCal region.
“I was like, ‘We’ve got to get this line in there,’” Schwartz remembers. “Having Luke say it felt like a way to put it out there and own it. And it was our big Karate Kid moment as well. Definitely influenced by The Karate Kid.”
“The line was presented to me with great fanfare,” Carmack adds in the book. “It wasn’t like I was reading the script and came across this line and made up my own mind about it. Josh was like, ‘You get the line!’ There was a preconceived idea that it was going to be an iconic moment for that show.”
Reader, he was correct.