Last week, we had the honor of sitting down with Josh Schwartz, the mastermind behind The OC
, for an exclusive BuddyTV interview. Josh created The OC
at the age of 26, becoming the youngest person to ever be in charge of the day-to-day operations of a major TV show. We talked about the origins of The OC
, the creative resurgence of the fourth season, and the the show's future.
airs on FOX every Thursday at 9PM ET/PT.
BuddyTV: You were the youngest person to ever be in charge of a prime time network TV show. How did you get into the business at such a young age?
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I've always known I wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. That was always the dream. I went to film school at USC, and when I was a junior there, I wrote a screenplay - we had to write a script for school, for homework basically, and it was my first screenplay about my senior year in high school and I ended up selling it to Sony Pictures. It never got made, but it got me out in the world of agents and stuff, and I'd written a couple of pilots right after that, that had gotten produced but hadn't made it to the air, and then The OC
happened. So I had been working for a few years before The OC
BTV: The OC's pilot is very highly regarded; it's certainly one of my favorites. Where did that idea come from?
JS: Well, I had a general meeting at Wonderland Sound and Vision, which is McG's production company, with a woman named Stephanie Savage who was running the company at the time. And we just started talking about TV and worlds and she mentioned Newport Beach as a potential world for a show, because that's where McG's from.
And, having gone to USC as a Jewish kid from Rhode Island, and showing up in the land of water polo players, and as you may or may not know, Newport Beach has sort of a direct pipeline into USC, they just basically drop their kids down a chute and they get funneled right into USC right out of Orange County. So I had a lot of exposure to that world and to those kids, and I said that to her, and went off and cooked up some characters, and came back and we took it from there. Really, the show is designed as my revenge against water polo players, because they got all the girls in college. (Laughs)
BTV: The OC burst on the scene and, right away, became a phenomenon. How hard was it to keep the forward momentum? How much pressure was involved?
JS: Yeah, there's a lot of pressure. You know, I always liked TV but never really watched that much television before. I certainly never watched a lot of one-hours, and I definitely didn't watch any soaps. So, you know, I kind of almost just jumped in. We had to do almost 30 episodes the first season and, like you said, it all happened really, really fast.
When you're a writer, especially if you're a young writer, your first goal is like, "I just want to write the best pilot that I can," because it's so competitive. There's like 70 scripts that get bought, and of that, six pilots get made. So your focus is on the pilot, and then if you're so fortunate to get your show picked up, then you're just like, "I want to have the next season."
Well, initially we didn't even think we were going to make it out of the summer. We had a seven episode trial run in August, which we thought we would be lucky to survive, so that was like let's do it all there. At every point, it was sort of like short term planning; we just tried to maximize our opportunity. So we burned through a ton of story, which I think is what made the first season really, really fun, but also can kind of create sustainability issues going into the future. Because, like I said, you want to write a great pilot, and all of a sudden you blink and it's season three, if you're lucky, and you have to keep figuring out stories. So, I don't know if I felt pressure so much in terms of maintaining the show at that point, because I was literally just jumping in and wasn't even thinking about it. But, certainly, as we got on after a couple of seasons, then you started feeling that pressure about being able to sustain stuff.
BTV: In the first season you wrote a majority of the episodes yourself, which is a ridiculous amount, but then less in season two, and barely any in season three. Why? Was this a conscious decision?
JS: I think the first season I probably ended up writing more because there's just a lot of scripts in the first year, it's your show, and you know, there are a lot of writers coming in and out trying to find the show, so it was a lot of writing that first season. And then the second season I still wrote a lot, but definitely not as much as I did the first season, and then last year, I didn't write very much at all. But yeah, some of it's conscious because you kind of get tired, also part of it is wanting to let other writers grow into the show. And this year, I think we're having our best season creatively that we've ever had, certainly since season one. And it's a testament to the other writers that I work with as well and I think it's because they had the opportunity to write a lot. I never wanted to be one of those guys that came in and had to have every word be mine. And it's sort of something I had to do in the beginning because we were still finding the show. But as the seasons went on, I wanted other people to have the opportunity to write the show, and after writing a lot of episodes as well, you start to feel like "Okay, maybe it's time to get a fresh pair of eyes on it," and I think that's really worked to the advantage of the show this season particularly, because it's a really great team effort.
BTV: How hard is it to integrate new writers on the fly?
JS: It's hard to do. I've been really lucky that I've found some really great writers who've come on and really surprised me with the stuff they've brought to the show as well. It takes a little while to form a staff and then for everybody to grow into it, but we have a great staff now. You know, that was something I had no experience doing before but I think I have a much better understanding of it now and the importance of building a really great team as fast as possible.
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This interview is the seventh in a series of BuddyTV interviews with the creators, writers, and producers behind many of TV's hit shows. Thus far, we've featured an interview with Alfred Gough (creator of Smallville), an interview with John Shiban (executive producer of Supernatural), an interview with Mark Schwahn (creator of One Tree Hill) an interview with Hank Steinberg (creator of The Nine), an interview with David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (the creators of The Class), and an interview with David S. Rosenthal (new Head Writer/Executive Producer of Gilmore Girls).