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'The O.C.' Hits Beach Before Summer Wanes

Fox hopes to build interest in the youth- oriented series, set in Newport Beach, by debuting it prior to the fall season.

August 03, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Fox's new prime-time youth-oriented soap, "The O.C.," is about a poor, misunderstood teenager who suffers more than a bit of culture shock when he comes to live among the rich and the beautiful in Newport Beach. The feeling of being the odd man out in that world is quite familiar to the series' 26-year-old creator.

"I was very familiar with Newport, having gone to USC," says Josh Schwartz, a onetime student at the university's film school who, in addition to creating the series on life in Orange County, is its executive producer. "So many kids go to USC from Newport. Being from Providence, R.I., I kind of had this outsider's perspective on Newport Beach. I got a chance to see that world and see it from my own perspective."

The series revolves around tough but sensitive teen Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie). He's from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks but is thrust into the world of luxury -- and decadence -- when Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), a goodhearted public defender, invites him to stay in his guesthouse when the young man's mother kicks him out. Kelly Rowan plays Sandy's wife, a former homecoming queen who isn't thrilled by Ryan's arrival. Adam Brody plays their teenage son, Seth, who is ostracized by his classmates, and Mischa Barton is Marissa Cooper, the gorgeous teenage girl next door.

"The O.C." has some heavyweight movie names attached to it. Doug Liman of "The Bourne Identity" is an executive producer and directed the first two episodes. McG, the director of both "Charlie's Angels" movies, is also an executive producer.

The series, which gets a full month's jump-start on the fall season, premieres Tuesday after "American Juniors" in the "24" time slot. The hourlong drama will continue in that time period until the show is preempted by the baseball playoffs in October. When the World Series is over, "The O.C." will return to the lineup, but this time in the very competitive 9 p.m. Thursday slot opposite the No. 1 series, CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," and NBC's popular sitcom "Will & Grace."

"We are taking a much more 'yearly' approach to our scheduling," explains Gail Berman, entertainment president at Fox. "We have baseball in October, which definitely presents some challenges for us in the fall. We felt that this was a show we could launch in the summer. It was the kind of show that was going to require a while to build because we are talking about a soap. We are giving it an opportunity to start building an audience for several weeks prior to baseball."

Fox had the same approach 12 years ago with the soap "Melrose Place," and the series became one of its signature shows of the '90s.

"I have no real sense of what it is going to mean" for the series premiering in the summer, Schwartz acknowledges. "I feel great just to be starting.... I think there is an audience [for it] out there. If they are aware of the show -- and people are starting to become aware of it -- I think people will watch scripted television during the summer."

Like Schwartz, McKenzie, 24, feels like something of an outsider, although in his case it's with Hollywood. "Ryan's relationship to Newport Beach is similar to my relationship to L.A.," says the actor, who was born and raised and Texas, graduated from the University of Virginia and then moved to New York to pursue acting.

"I am very new here," McKenzie says. "It's kind of this crazy world of fabulous wealth and sort of exotic behavior, so I am a bit overwhelmed by the whole situation. Basically, I am doing a lot of learning on the job. I am so new to [television]. I have done some tiny parts on television shows of no note, basically. All I really have is the training I received as an actor in college and in theater in New York."

McKenzie says his friends are getting a "kick" out of the fact that he is playing a 17-year-old in the series. "But actually, in a weird way for this character, I don't really think of him [as a teenager]. He is an adult trapped in a kid's body. The bottom line is I am an actor, so if I get a role that's younger than me, then that's the way it is."

"The O.C." can be seen at 9

p.m. Tuesdays on Fox. The

network has rated it TVPG

(may be unsuitable for

young children).

Cover photograph by J.

Greenberg

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