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For O.C., life goes on

Orange County's signature TV drama has been canceled, but its tradition of glorious distortion will continue.

January 07, 2007

IN A SENSE, there never would have been a real Orange County without the fictional O.C. Or at least the reality soaps "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" and "The Real Housewives of Orange County" never would have been approved by television executives or mattered to audiences until Peter Gallagher and his teen co-stars on Fox TV's "The O.C." accomplished the impossible: They made Orange County hip.

Those are words that impel us to stand back and admire. Within three years, Orange County was transformed by a TV show from, well, Orange County to "the O.C." The county once best known for white-bread suburban conservatism and best loved for Disneyland was now the destination of travelers worldwide who couldn't wait to walk where Marissa, Ryan and Summer had placed their expensively shod feet. The venerable Crab Cooker restaurant hasn't been the same since.

At the height of the soap's popularity, a county supervisor suggested renaming John Wayne airport "The O.C. Airport." Good thing the change never flew. "The O.C.," Fox announced last week, has been canceled; its last episode is scheduled to air next month.

It's a double blow to tony Newport Beach, where the series is set. Last year, Fox put an early end to "Arrested Development," a satirical Emmy-winning comedy about a family of home developers that was truer to certain aspects of Orange County life (witness the repeated shots of a lone McMansion on a ruthlessly bulldozed hillside) than any of the above-mentioned shows. Now Laguna Beach and the foothills of Orange County, where the housewives live, will present their glossy, shallow and mostly white version of Orange County to the world. But even they will inevitably fade from prime-time popularity.

Will there be a real Orange County after the TV versions are gone? Of course. The county has never been well-represented by its fictional doppelgangers. In a case of truth being more dramatic than drama, the O.C. has long been far more diverse ethnically, economically and philosophically than any of the shows reflect. Some of its school districts are more than 90% Latino. It reliably elects Democrats to Congress. At UC Irvine, almost half of the students are of Asian descent.

The county may miss the money from all those TV-loving tourists. But if "Dallas" is any indicator, the glamour and interest will continue through the magic of reruns -- in which wealthy, fashionable teenagers and their hip homes need never age or die.

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