"O.C." creator Josh Schwartz: California Dreamin'
28-year-old producer/creator of "The O.C.", Josh Schwartz is the youngest guy to ever create his own one-hour drama for network TV. He sold his first screenplay while still a junior at USC film school. Being the son of toy inventors probably had something to do with the young producer's creative imagination.
With the new season of this popular TV show launching November 4th, we decided to hook up with its creator for the low-down on things to come on the show as well as his take on what makes his series so hot and watchable and what might be next for the talented producer/writer.
TeenHollywood: What was the real inspiration to create "The O.C."?
Josh: I never thought I would be doing a serialized teen drama set in Orange County, but it was very much based on sort of the experiences I had when I was in college. Certainly when I was in high school and college, the ladies watched religiously '90210'—I don't even know who was still on the cast at that point; Ian Ziering, I think—'Party of Five'; 'Dawson's' came on. I admit to having a crush on Katie Holmes at the time, so I may have tuned into that once in a while. Those shows were definitely out there. I understood their popularity and how they're accessible and, I guess, try to infuse [my shows] with the spirit of the kind of shows that I like to watch.
TeenHollywood: Talk about how you got such a powerful position at such a young age.
Josh: Well, I was late this morning, because I was on a bender all night. No, I think maybe the network and the studio may trust me a little bit more in that I might be more in touch with the youth culture. But I don't know that it's either been an advantage or a disadvantage. I think you're only as good as the work that you do. I think had I not been delivering on scripts and they've been late or production had been behind, they wouldn't have cared if they thought I had my finger on the pulse of a generation or not.
TeenHollywood: Any plans for any high profile guest stars this season?
Josh: We don't have any plans for any big stunt casting at this point. We do have four new characters who are coming on to the show and they're all great, but it's not J.Lo. We have some bands. That's the closest thing we have to guest casting. We have The Killers on the show and The Walkmen, Modest Mouse, the Thrills. Those are our guest stars.
TeenHollywood: So are those bands going to be physically be on the show or just on the soundtrack?
Josh: Yes, be on the show. We're doing a lot more on-camera stuff this year.
TeenHollywood: Are you getting swamped with people slipping you their CD?
Josh: Constantly, but it's great, because last year, at the beginning of the year, we couldn't get arrested, so I'll take this; feast versus famine.
TeenHollywood: With bands like Death Cab for Cutie and other non-mainstream bands that have been aired on the show, how do you think that's influenced their careers? Has it benefited them?
Josh: Yes, specifically with Death Cab. They've been really cool and appreciative of how we've mentioned them on the show. We treat them with a lot of respect and integrity, as we do all the artists that we either mention or use on the show. I think it's brought awareness. It's really hard in this day and age, with radio and MTV being so consolidated, to get new music out there. I think we've become a really legitimate, viable avenue for getting new music out there.
TeenHollywood: Have people from Orange County actually approached you and given you flack and said, "You know what, the OC isn't really like this." Or, have Colin Hanks or Jack Black complained because they had the movie first?
Josh: No, Colin was on the show actually. He played Grady Bridges, the star of the "The Valley," the show within the show, and he's been really cool about it. I think our show is very different from Orange County other than taking place in the same region. As for it being realistic or not, I watched the first episode of Laguna Beach, the MTV reality series, and I think we're pretty close. It didn't have any fistfights, but other than that.
TeenHollywood: So, no complaints from real residents of the area?
Josh: Not anymore. I think now they're behind it. I think our attitude towards Orange County and people who live in Newport Beach, because it's more about Newport Beach than it is about Orange County, is that we don't look at it with disdain. We don't act as if our characters are above it.
TeenHollywood: What might be the top three or four factors that are responsible for the success of the show?
Josh: The timing, I think, absolutely. The support that we have from the network in terms of launching us at an unusual time in the year and playing our episodes three times in a given week until we built an audience. I think the cast is exceptional. I think, aside from being extremely attractive, they're also really talented and can do humor and drama and are really amazing in that way. I think the tone of the show surprised people.
TeenHollywood: How does the show's popularity fit into how the world is going right now, the mood of the country?
Josh: Obviously we've got some problems out there in the world and there's a lot of bad news when you put on the television. It's nice to be able to put on a TV show for an hour a week and see a family that really loves each other and get some escapist entertainment that has a sense of humor about it; that has romance; has some cool music that sort of lives in a universe that feels relatable, but certainly isn't as beleaguered with everything that's going on in the world that you find if you put on, say, CNN.
TeenHollywood: What's the biggest challenge for the writers in the second season?
Josh: Changing the show up. We never wanted to be one of those shows that you might find on another network that tend to set up their [love] triangles and then go, "Okay, A, B and C were together; let's put C and B together this year, and A and C." We've tried to really not just recycle our storylines and just plug in different series regulars into those dynamics. There's less spectacle than there was last year. Last year we really had something to prove and we wanted to make a big splash and get seen. Now that's happened and I think it's really about how can this show mature and evolve and be different from what it was last year, and evolve the characters.
TeenHollywood: The characters are that vague high school age. What is going to happen to the characters as they age? At what point will they enter college and how will the show change from there?
Josh: I think the actors have their own take on it, and the network certainly has their own take on it. Probably those two are not the same take. I foresee at least this year and next year in high school, and then cross that bridge as we come to it at the end of Year Three; should we be lucky enough to come back for Year Four.
TeenHollywood: Which character on the show do you relate to the most?
Josh: Sort of the way into the show for me was through the character of Seth, his sort of point of view on the world. While that character is very much taken on Adam Brody's attitude and been a real collaboration between us, certainly his point of view on the world is derived from my experiences at USC as a neurotic Jewish kid from the East Coast in a land of water polo players.
TeenHollywood: How much does fan reaction play into the show's writing?
Josh: If we're doing a storyline and people have a really violent reaction to it, that's illuminating to me. It's certainly not going to change the storyline, but it may change the way I think about the storyline or approach the storyline. By the time these episodes air, we're already past that storyline anyway. By the time we air the first episode, the season will have already made 12 episodes. We'll be halfway through the season. So obviously fan reaction initially, while I hope they love the show, isn't going to be able to change any storylines in the immediate future.
TeenHollywood: When moved to California, what things just struck you about the California culture that are helpful for the show here?
Josh: Everybody is so damn good looking. I'm not saying people in Rhode Island are unsightly, by any means; but you come to LA, you come to USC, and it is shocking. You've seen the "Laguna Beach" reality show. That's what these girls look like, and the guys, too. It's just a culture of being outside and surfing and water polo, although that's played indoors; volleyball, which is on the beach. It's just this whole outdoor culture under the sun, and I watch movies.
TeenHollywood: Can you tell us anything more about the new characters that are being introduced this season? You mentioned there's at least four.
Josh: Yes, there are four new kids coming on the show. We have Nicholas Gonzalez, who plays DJ, who is the yard guy who works at Caleb's mansion, and Marissa spent the summer by herself, drinking, lonely. That's all I'm saying. Shannon Lucio plays Lindsay, who is a working-class, middle-class girl who comes to Harbor School, who's really smart and may challenge Ryan to use his brain instead of his fists. Michael Cassidy plays Zach, who's sort of the WASP Seth, a.k.a. the anti-Cohen, and a formidable potential opponent for Seth. And Olivia Wilde plays Alex, who is sort of the bad girl who runs the Bait Shop, which is the new club the kids are going to be hanging out at where all these bands will be performing at. She's our "Nat" (Beverly Hills 90210), if you will.
TeenHollywood: Is it safe to say that these four new young characters are going to be breaking up the existing couples that we got familiar with last year?
Josh: I think they will be troubling the waters, yes; although our characters did enough to break themselves up. They didn't need any help, but now these characters will come and definitely complicate the situation.
TeenHollywood: Tell us more about The Bait Shop. Is it a club?
Josh: Basically the Bait Shop is a little bit modeled after clubs like Troubadour in Los Angeles or CBGB in New York, meaning it's kind of got more of a down, kind of older feel. It's on the pier and the idea was that maybe, once upon a time, it was an actual bait shop and now it's been converted into this rock club. I think it's really cool. It's got a lot of texture to it. It's got a lot of grit to it. It's been a great set for us and it's a great place for the kids to hang out. Because it's pier-adjacent, we get to go out there and shoot out by the water at night, too. I think it's just going to be a real iconic set for the show.
TeenHollywood: Who of the cast would you say in the first season was or is the biggest breakout actor or actress?
Josh: Each of the actors on the show has gotten their own really specific reactions. It's funny. Girls either all love Ben or they love Adam. There's very little overlap there. Obviously Adam really kind of popped in that sort of Emo/Indirock, geek-chic, under that umbrella. Mischa clearly has been the fodder of a lot of tabloid speculation and photographs and gotten a lot of covers, as has Rachel. I think all of them have really carved out an interesting profile. Ben went off and did an Indie film last summer. I think they each have different sort of aspirations and goals, and each one is well on their way.
TeenHollywood: You have a new show called "Athens" in the works. What is up with that?
Josh: It's going to be a show set in a New England college town, probably Boston. It is going to chronicle the lives and loves of professors, students and those who live in the town, townies who live around the college.
TeenHollywood: Can you give us your reaction to the soundtracks? Two coming out at once.
Josh: I'm really excited about both of them actually. I'm really proud of both of them. I think, with the first soundtrack, we kind of created sort of a template of what we wanted to do and, this year, we took it further. The second soundtrack is going to feature 16 songs this year as opposed to 12 on the last one. It's got stuff from last season. It's got stuff from this season that obviously has not yet aired. It's got Nada Surf's cover of OMD's "If You Leave," which we had them record specifically for The OC for when Anna was leaving to go to the airport and Seth was racing to get there to her, so we can have that great sort of John Hughes feeling. We have Jem's cover of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," which she did specifically for the show, which played at the wedding last year. We have a live Walkmen track. They appear at the Bait Shop. We have like a B side from Keen, a single from Interpol. It's only available in Japan. I mean lots of really cool stuff for our people.
The Christmukkah album is all holiday music Unfortunately it leans a little bit more on the "Christ" than the "mukkah." It's hard to find. I wanted the Beastie Boys to go do a cover of "Dradel, Dradel, Dradel," but maybe we'll get them for the next one. It's got stuff that was either done specifically for the show or bands that went into the studio to cut Christmas songs for the show. It's got bands like Rooney and the Eels and Jimmy Eat World, so it's, I guess, a holiday album for hipsters.
TeenHollywood: Do you feel that other shows have tried to copy you?
Josh: I feel like we maybe had a hand in, in terms of making it okay for networks to back scripted drama, young adult scripted drama or even something like "Desperate Housewives". I think in terms of the music you'll hear on shows, maybe the tone of shows, the fact that, in pre-existing teen shows, adult characters are now being asked to play a larger role. I feel like maybe that's a little bit stemming from the success of our show. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I'm very flattered.
TeenHollywood: You've mentioned the new characters. Where will the old characters be heading this season?.
Josh: Last year, Ryan was this blue collar kid from the wrong side of the tracks who was trying to integrate himself into Newport Beach life and not cause too many problems with Seth, this sort of geeky kid who never had a friend before who is coming out of his shell, care of Ryan. You can't do that again this year. So let's say our two main characters somehow end up back in Newport Beach at some point this season. We can't repeat those storylines. I think you'll see Seth is now grown up a little bit, acting out a little bit more. It's no longer about Ryan's past; now it's going to be about Ryan's future and how he can start to activate himself in a way to plan for his future, to leave his past behind.
TeenHollywood: And Marissa and Summer?
Josh: Yes, Marissa and Summer, the same kind of evolving characteristics. Obviously Marissa's whole family dynamic has shifted. She's now living in this mansion with Caleb. When we met this girl who had it all at the beginning of Season One, who had no idea that her whole world was about to collapse around her. Now, her mom tries to rebuild their family and she feels like a prisoner in her own home. Summer, who fell in love for the first time and really evolved as a new character and had that first love leave and it's about how she's going to react to that and how she's going to change.
TeenHollywood: What shows did you watch when you were in college?
Josh: I watched 'Seinfeld', 'South Park', 'The Daily Show', 'Conan', and I've always been a huge fan of 'Charlie Rose'.
TeenHollywood: I was wondering what elements of the actors' own personalities will be integrated into the storylines this year?
Josh: Peter Gallagher is singing. He was the original Danny Zuko on Broadway and Sky Masterson in the revival of 'Guys and Dolls' with Nathan Lane. The guy's got some pipes and we wanted to put them to use, so absolutely that. And Ben McKenzie is a really smart guy. We wanted to start writing towards that part of his personality as well.
TeenHollywood: Is it true that Justin Timberlake was originally approached for a role in the show?
Josh: I have to be careful what I say, but the prospect of him appearing on the show may have caused some tremors in Adam Brody's dressing room. He was touring in Japan or something, I don't know. But if he's available, give me a call, Justin, JT.
TeenHollywood: You tackle sex and alcohol and difficult subjects. Do you get pressure from the network about what you can use as subject matter?
Josh: In the show initially, we were asked to push the envelope. The mandate we got from the network was that we lived in a post-reality television world. To try to act like we didn't, the show would seem antiquated right out of the gate. The climate in which the show now exists is a little bit more conservative and there are extreme pressures on the network and the studio to comply with that sort of more conservative atmosphere. I think also, as the characters become more evolved and the audience becomes more connected with the characters, sex for the sake of sex, becomes less necessary and the characters become the real part of the story that's interesting. That being said, Marissa still has her drinking problem. Characters will still continue to sleep together, but in a way that I think is realistic and responsible and hopefully not preachy.
TeenHollywood: Are we talking post-Janet Jackson exposure incident?
Josh: I think that changed the landscape for everybody. I think that became the straw that broke the camel's back and everybody was asked to clean up their act a little bit, yes.
TeenHollywood: Both you and the cast are quite young. Did you give them any advice?
Josh: What they're going through is really unique. Luckily they have each other to go through all this together. All I can do really is try to remind them that it's the work that got us here and that we all need to continue to do good work, myself included, and no one should get caught up or get lazy or get complacent, because it can all go away really fast. I think the nature of television is very humbling, because there's so much work to be done at all times. I think that it just forces you to remain really focused. You can't go out there and be partying all the time, because you've got a 5:30 a.m. call, if you're a cast member. So they've all been extremely well behaved and remain extremely professional.
TeenHollywood: Can you give me an idea of what your typical day is like when The O.C. is in production?
Josh: Every day is a little bit different. It depends on whether I'm writing or not. If I'm writing a script or in a heavy rewrite mode, I try to work from home as best as I can, but usually it involves checking in with the writers in the writers' room, seeing how the story is evolving, reading outlines and reading drafts. There are usually meetings with the wardrobe/costume designer, looking at wardrobe photos, going up to post to watch cuts and pitch on different music, listen to music queues from the composer, meeting with the production designer to look at new sets, the location photos. There are production meetings, tone meetings with the director, casting sessions for guest stars. All of that kind of stuff either lands on the same day or is parceled out over five days, unless I'm in serious deadline mode, in which case, you'll find me at a bar.
TeenHollywood: Was there a point last season where it sort of hit you that The O.C. was there to stay?
Josh: You never have a real sense of it. You're kind of in a little bit of a vacuum and you know your parents are watching the show and their friends and your friends, but you don't know in terms of the larger culture. I remember Conan O'Brien, early in the show, was saying he didn't know where he was going to be in five years; maybe he'd be living in a pool house in Orange County. I said, "Okay, we're on Conan's radar. That's cool."
TeenHollywood: There was other media attention.
Josh: Certainly when the kids were on the cover of Entertainment Weekly as the breakout stars of 2003, I thought, "Entertainment Weekly cover, they have some good people on their covers. That's pretty significant." I guess the earliest moment was when we did this party for Episode Five. Fox had us do a screening at a bar, because that's where all the kids on our show like to hang out. We pulled up at this bar to do a screening with fans of the show and there was like 500 or 1,000 screaming people out there who knew all of our actors' names and wanted posters signed and that was by the fifth episode. That was pretty eye opening.
TeenHollywood: You draw some of your stories from your own experience. What was the worst thing you did when you were younger that got you in trouble with the 'rents?
Josh: When I was in college, we were at one of my parent's friend's house in Palm Springs and everybody decided to go into the golf course and steal a bunch of golf carts and play bumper cars with the golf carts. Needless to say, the Palm Springs police department didn't think kindly on that nor did the golf course after they saw what we did to their greens, so that was bad.