August 6, 1976 • Providence, Rhode Island
The Fox network introduced The O.C. in August of 2003 as something of an experiment. The television show about a high school kid from the wrong side of the tracks who moves into the ultra-posh world of Orange County, California, seemed like a soap opera long shot. Critics predicted The O.C. would be another Fox clunker, and doubted that the show would make it past its first seven episodes. Audiences proved them wrong. After the very first episode, fans of all ages were hooked, and soon Fox had a runaway hit on its hands. Some chalked up the show's success to its good-looking cast, but most realized that the true star was Josh Schwartz, The O.C.'s hip, young creator and executive producer. When his show hit the small screen, Schwartz, at twenty-six, was the youngest person ever to create a one-hour drama for network television.
The writer who captures life in southern California week after week for television was actually raised, along with his two younger brothers, in Rhode Island. Josh Schwartz was born August 6, 1976, in Providence, Rhode Island, to Stephen and Honey Schwartz. Josh may have gotten some of his early interest in popular culture from his father, since Stephen Schwartz was a toy inventor and president of Hasbro's Playskool division.
Growing up, Schwartz spent most of his time watching movies, "tons of movies," according to brother Dan, who spoke with Suzanne Ryan of the Boston Globe. "I remember him sitting in his room all the time, quoting lines and doing impersonations. He could tell you anything about any movie." By the seventh grade, Schwartz was writing scripts that focused on the lives of his friends. He also proved he had a knack for acting, appearing in such school plays as You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Amadeus. Schwartz attended the Wheeler School, a private, progressive school in Providence. He was so good in Wheeler productions that he attracted a following. As one of his former neighbors told Ryan, "My daughters and I used to call ourselves the Joshettes. We were his fan club. He had so much charisma."
After graduating from Wheeler in 1995, Schwartz packed up his bags and headed for the West Coast, the land where movies are made. "The thought of coming to Southern California, to Hollywood, was incredibly intoxicating," Schwartz explained to Jiby Kattakayam in a 2004 interview. "It was always my dream to come here." Schwartz enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinema-Television, a famous film school whose alumni include such Hollywood heavyweights as directors Ron Howard (1954–) and George Lucas (1944–).
"I'm not a teen but I'm not 50 either. I remember distinctly what it was like to be 16."
Schwartz thrived in the creative environment of USC, spending time with fellow students who loved the movies just as much as he did. He was also an incredibly dedicated student, who earned high praise from his professors. "I thought he was exceptional," Schwartz's writing teacher told Suzanne Ryan. He was so exceptional that the first screenplay he wrote at USC won the school's Jack Nicholson Scholarship Award, named after American actor Jack Nicholson (1937–). Schwartz was thrilled, especially since the scholarship award was for $5,000. Unfortunately, the scholarship was taken away because he had not read the fine print: only students who were juniors or above could enter, and Schwartz was just a sophomore.
The screenplay, called Providence, was based on Schwartz's own experiences as a high school senior in Rhode Island. He shopped the script around, and the executives at Columbia Pictures bit. At the beginning of his junior year, Columbia purchased Schwartz's script for close to $1 million. The script was never made into a movie, but it did open doors for the young filmmaker, who decided to quit school and go to work. Schwartz zeroed in on television, and sold several pilots, which are samples of television shows, to ABC and the WB. He also talked with Fox about creating a television series that would focus on working at a New York gossip magazine. Again, nothing came of the scripts, but Schwartz had caught the attention of Fox executives.
Schwartz had been developing a fish-out-of-water script based on how he felt as a student from Rhode Island meeting the California culture. Fox liked the idea, and Schwartz fleshed out the show's concept with Joseph McGinty Nichol, known as McG (1969–), director of the Charlie's Angels movies. McG, like Schwartz, was not a California native. He originally hailed from Michigan, but grew up in Newport Beach, in Orange County. Part of McG's goal in working on The O.C., was to accurately portray what it feels like to be an outsider.
Fox approved the project in spring 2003 and placed a lot of trust in the untried writer. One reason is that they hoped to strike gold a second time with younger audiences. The network had scored an enormous hit during the 1990s with the long-running teen drama Beverly Hills 90210, which centered on a brother and sister from Minnesota who are transplanted to glitzy Beverly Hills. The O.C. had the same sort of feel. As Peter Johnson, a Fox senior vice president, explained to Ryan, "We've been wanting to do something that harkens back to the success of '90210' and do it in a way that is obviously contemporary. Josh has a voice that feels authentic.... He really is a big talent."
The O.C. was slated to debut in late summer. As a result, Schwartz worked night and day to pound out twenty-seven episodes. He was helped by a staff of six writers who locked themselves in a room to sketch out characters and break down storylines. They also had to cast the show. Directors ultimately went with new faces, although one of the show's stars is veteran actor Peter Gallagher (1955–), who plays public defender Sandy Cohen, the father at the heart of The O.C.
When The O.C. first premiered, most of the press focused on actor Benjamin McKenzie, and the character he played on the show, brooding rebel Ryan Atwood. McKenzie, a newcomer to Hollywood, was applauded by critics for his cool, understated acting. People even compared him to 1950s acting legend, James Dean (1931–1955). Girls thought he looked like a young Cameron Crowe (1957–), and everyone predicted there was a new heartthrob in town. As more episodes aired, however, the character of Seth, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen's geeky son, started to draw more of our attention. He was quirky, he delivered great oneliners, and he was adorable. As a result, the spotlight started shifting from Benjamin McKenzie to Adam Brody, the actor who plays Seth.
Adam Brody was born on April 8, 1981, in San Diego, California. While growing up, Brody spent much of his time at the beach, swimming and surfing. At one point, he actually thought about becoming a professional surfer. However, in the back of his mind, his secret dream was to become an actor. One day, while floating on his surfboard, he devised a plan to make his dream come true. Brody talked his parents into letting him go to college in Los Angeles. He moved to L.A. in 1999, but instead of taking college courses, he hired an acting coach and starting auditioning for roles on television and in film. Within a year, Brody snagged the lead in the television movie Growing Up Brady, playing actor Barry Williams (1954–), star of the popular TV series The Brady Bunch.
Following Growing Up Brady, Brody had bit parts in films such as American Pie 2 (2001) and The Ring (2002). He also gained his first minor success on the WB television show, Gilmore Girls, playing David Rygalsky during the 2002–03 season. In 2003, when he was cast in The O.C., Brody had more experience than his younger co-stars, but he was still relatively unknown. That fact would soon change as the press started to knock at his door. It seemed that Brody had a lot of fans who wanted to know more about the dark-haired actor and his alter-ego, Seth Cohen. But where does Seth Cohen begin and Adam Brody leave off?
"As the show goes on, Seth is becoming more like me," Brody told Maxine Shen of Fox News. "I like to think I'm steadier on my feet with girls, but other than that, we're into the same things." Brody credits the show's creator, Josh Schwartz, for integrating real-life Brody-isms into his O.C. character. For example, Brody constantly says "dude," and Schwartz began writing that in to Seth's dialogue. Seth was originally supposed to love sailing, but when Brody told Schwartz he would have a lot more fun surfing, surfboards appeared in Seth's bedroom. Brody's favorite band is Death Cab for Cutie, and in one episode Seth is listening to one of their songs. And, Seth, like Brody, is definitely into comic books.
In the pilot episode, Cohen brings home one of his clients, sixteen-year-old Ryan Atwood who has nowhere else to go. Cohen and his wife, Kirsten, a real-estate developer, live in swanky Newport Beach, Orange County; Ryan is from, to quote one of the show's teen characters, "Chino, ew." Although he was arrested for stealing a car, Ryan is not a criminal. He is a sensitive soul, wise beyond his years, who just happens to live in the wrong zip code. Ryan tries to fit in with the pampered set, but it is an uphill battle. His hot temper puts him at odds with the resident jock, Luke Ward. Atwood eventually bonds with Seth Cohen, the dorky, comic-book-loving son, and there are romantic sparks between him and beautiful, yet troubled, girl-next-door Marissa Cooper.
The O.C. debuted on Tuesday, August 5, 2003, and viewers tuned in. It was the twenty-seventh most-watched television program in the United States and was Fox's highest-rated show. Critics either loved it or hated it. Some, like Tom Shales of the Washington Post, dismissed it as a predictable drama "about rich young brats," and prayed that it would be cancelled. Others, like James Poniewozik of Time, agreed that the show followed the predictable formula of a soap opera, complete with pretty people, flashy clothes, and high drama. But, as Poniewozik observed, the formula was delivered with "so much style and believability that it feels new again."
The O.C. rose steadily in the ratings, and by September it had reached number one. Fox briefly took it off the air until after the major league baseball playoffs, but the fan base was so strong that viewers waited patiently for its return at the end of October. Web sites devoted to the show sprang up by the thousands, and the show's young stars became overnight celebrities. By the end of 2003, The O.C. was an undisputed hit. It was named one of the ten best shows of the year by Entertainment Weekly magazine, and Time included the teen soap in its 2003 "Best of TV" list.
However, it seemed that not just teens were tuning in to watch Seth, Ryan, and Marissa. Young viewers were hooked, but so were their parents. According to Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel, the reason why The O.C. was so successful, why it was different, was not just because of the hip dialogue and the hunky stars. The appeal was that the show "manages to make the adults every bit as compelling as the teens." Sandy Cohen does not just disappear after he brings Ryan home to Newport Beach. He is an integral part of the storylines, a laid-back father who plays video games with his kids and surfs to clear his head. As Schwartz told Boedeker, "There's a lot of my dad in that character. There's a lot of Peter Gallagher in the character. Both guys are really wonderful fathers. They have a sense of humor and get it. Sandy gets it.... He's cool. He's compassionate."
The first season of the The O.C. ended in May of 2004, and the Fox network was only too happy to pick up the show for a second season. Fox executives gave Schwartz all the credit. In interviews, however, the young man from Rhode Island was quick to acknowledge the contributions of director McG, and his staff of writers, most of whom were seasoned veterans. Marcy Ross, Fox senior vice president, insisted Schwartz was behind the show's popularity. As she explained to Boedeker, the reason for The O.C.'s success is Schwartz's clear vision: "He never wavers from it. That's why the show has captured the imagination of so many young people."
Schwartz has also never wavered from the goal he had growing up. According to his father, Stephen, who spoke with Suzanne Ryan in 2003, "Josh has known he wanted to be a screenwriter since he was eight years old." Less than twenty years later, Schwartz had achieved his goal. At the age of twenty-six, he created his first television program. At twenty-seven, he was the driving force behind a television phenomenon."
Boedeker, Hal. "'O.C.' Creator Schwartz Adds Laugh, Lust and Love to Hit Show." Orlando Sentinel (April 20, 2004).
Chocano, Carina. "Orange Crush: Welcome to the O.C." Entertainment Weekly (August 15, 2004): p. 61.
Poniewozik, James. "The Same Young Story: The Appealing Teen Drama 'The O.C.' Proves That Piling on Soap-Opera Cliches Isn't Always a Bad Thing." Time (August 11, 2003).
Ryan, Suzanne C. "At 26, Josh Schwartz Is Living His Childhood Goal in L.A. as Creator of Fox's New Teen Drama." Boston Globe (August 5, 2003): p. E1.
Shales, Tom. "'The O.C.': Land of the Brooding Teen." Washington Post (August 5, 2003): p. C01.
Kattakayam, Jiby. "Josh Schwartz Interview." USC CN-TV Web site. (March 11, 2004). http://www.cntvalumni.net/displaypost.cfm?PostType=AlumNews&PostingID=1861 (accessed on May 30, 2004).
The O.C. Web site. http://www.fox.com/oc (accessed on May 30, 2004).
"'The O.C.': Television Review." PopMatters Web site. (November 4, 2003). http://www.popmatters.com/tv/reviews/o/oc.shtml (accessed on May 30, 2004).
Shen, Maxine. "Adam Brody Talks about Being the Nerd of 'The O.C.'" Fox News: Fox Life. (September 17, 2003). http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,97551,00.html (accessed on May 30, 2004).