One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn took a big risk when he made the decision to jump the show four years into the future for season 5. It’s an unprecedented move in the realm of teen dramas, but it was a move that had to be made to keep the show creatively fresh as it heads toward its 100th episode. Now that he has some free time due to the writers’ strike, he’s waiting to see how the fans react to the big changes in tonight’s two-hour season premiere. Mark was kind enough to speak to us at BuddyTV about where the characters are headed, what to expect in the big 100th episode, and what it was like to work with Kevin Federline.
Hey everyone. This is Don from BuddyTV, and today I’m talking to Mark Schwahn, the creator and executive producer of One Tree Hill. How are you doing Mark?
Hey Don, I’m good, and hi to the fans. I know you guys do an mp3 of these things, so I want to say hi to all our loyal fans.
So this season of One Tree Hill is set four years after the previous season. I’m just wondering what inspired you to do that, and how the network and the cast initially reacted to that idea.
Well, when I actually went in to the CW, as you know the networks merged — so when UPN and the WB merged, we certainly weren’t guaranteed a spot on the new network. I had to go in and pitch season 4 actually. When I was pitching season 4, I told everyone in the room including [CW President] Dawn Ostroff, “If you pick us up for a season 4 you’re going to want a season 5.” And somebody in the room sort of made a joke that the kids were getting really old, and they didn’t know if that was plausible. I said to them, “Well, I have a fix for that. I want to skip college.” The room fell silent, and I said, “You know, nobody has ever done it before, and I think shows of our ilk tend to suffer when they go to college.” Shows have survived it, but I think creatively they’ve never been as strong. We’ve been pretty accelerated in terms of the stuff we’ve done in high school on our show, and I just felt like we were going to start regurgitating stories and start being extremely redundant in college. I also think that, you know, one of the reasons they pay me is that if we come across an obstacle that has been a problem in the past, and it has been for these types of shows, my job is to figure out how to overcome that obstacle creatively. I was really excited to do it.
So how did the cast react to playing older versions of their characters?
I would say that absolutely every one of them was excited. They’re actors that are in their twenties, and this show will have an expiration date at some point. I think that they were all so excited to get — at least the younger cast was also excited to get out of high school. I was stunned, I think stunned is not too strong of a word, at how strong their performances got as they were able to play ages that were closer to their own. I think that one of the things I’m most excited about this year, other than the active stories we have moving forward four years later, is the work that the actors are doing. I’m really proud of them, and I think the fans are going to see several of them really flip a switch this year in terms of the skill they show as actors on camera.
I know you guys recently filmed your 100th episode. What was that experience like and how did you celebrate it?
It was really wonderful and humbling. We had this big party in Wilmington, and it was really a great night. I think that everybody, especially the crew, the crew’s families, the cast and the writers, many of us got together and spent a night really sort of looking back at how ridiculous a trip it was getting here. As you know, we were never a show that was guaranteed of coming back. I actually found a Variety article last week, now that I have some time to actually spend in my house. It was an article from the end of season 1, and it was basically about several shows had gotten picked up for season 2. It was a WB article, and it said that along with Gilmore Girls, Smallville, and Everwood…it was Everwood and another show had gotten picked up. It said that only leaves One Tree Hill as the only question mark heading into next season. I had to chuckle, because I’m sure that article was published every year of this show.
The 12th episode, can that act as a season finale if it has to due to the writers’ strike? Does it have a cliffhanger?
Yeah, it does and it will. It’s a huge episode, and it very much will play like a season finale. It’s got a great ending, and it would make for a perfect season ender and a cliffhanger to head into a season six.
I know music has always played a big part in the series, and every episode is named after a song. Do you ever take a song that you like and write an episode around it, or do you come up with the titles after the scripts are written?
You know, I think we’ve done it every which way over the hundred [episodes]. But every once in awhile I’ll be very inspired by the tone of a song or a lyric in a song, and I’ll sit down and want to write to that lyric or to the tone of that song. Sometimes there’s a play on words, sometimes I’ll write an episode and there will be a theme, at least it’ll feel like there’ll be a theme to me, whether it’s looking back, being happy, saying goodbye or whatever. Then I’ll just sort of search for a song title that’s a play on words. I think the fans get a little frustrated sometimes because they’ll find a song and they’ll find the lyrics and say, “Well this doesn’t have anything to do with the episode.” But I think it’s happened every which way over the hundred.
Of course I have to ask about Kevin Federline being on the show this season. What was it like to work with him, and what can we expect from his character?
It was pretty stunning how — I guess I’ve used that word again now — it was surprising how casting Kevin was so a powder keg issue. It just sort of spoke to how big his public persona is and his image is, and how people are following the sort of soap opera aspects of his real life. We just cast a kid who was interested in acting. When we write a character, obviously we’ve got a bunch of writers sitting in a room, and we fall in love with a character first before the character even has a face. We’ve invented the character, we know what they’re gonna do, we know what purpose they’re going to serve on the show. It’s human nature that we sit around and talk about who would be great in the role, knowing the economics of what we do and the commerce, and you know you’re not going to get some A-list movie star to do your three episode arc. But there are certain people who will jump out at you, and one of my writers said, “You know, we’ve basically written K-Fed.” I thought about it, and he was right. Somebody else in the room said that he had done an episode of CSI and that it was pretty good, so we got that tape and looked at it and I said, “Why not? Let’s find out what Kevin’s life is all about.” He read, and he was really enigmatic. I still think this, whenever he pops up on camera in the show he just gets your attention. The camera loved him and you watch him, and the character’s written like a traffic accident and you sort of watch it in that way. It’s very, very wonderful and fun.
Aside from his character there’s about nine other new characters.
Yeah, on a show where the fans don’t really love new characters.
What can you tell us about the other new characters?
I could tell you that they’re all wonderful, and that there was an energy on set that we really needed after 80-some episodes in four years. It was almost like the younger cast on our show went through high school, and now it was off to college sort of in the real world. With college comes a lot of new faces, roommates, and new experiences. We kind of designed it that way.
We have some very young actors. Robbie Jones, who plays Quentin, who’s a very arrogant, cocky basketball player, and such a wonderful human being and does an amazing job, and is an amazing basketball player as well, which is a hard combination to find a lot of times. He’s great.
Michaela McManus plays Lindsey, Lucas’s editor, and she’s brand new as well. She’s really, really wonderful.
I’m a guy who sort of worries about [the actors] as people in addition to worrying about the show and the characters, and I never worried more than with Jackson Brundage, who plays Jamie, Nathan and Haley’s son. He’s a little kid, he’s 6-years-old, he’s playing four-and-a-half, but he’s really diminutive and has a really little voice. He’s just a kid, and you hear these horror stories about kid actors who grew up and lost their way, and you wonder how much did our industry feed that? Was it the parents or was it us? He’s really big in episode two, which is going to air as the second hour of the debut on Tuesday. It’s probably one of the episodes that features his character more than any other episode, and you wonder about giving a kid like that that kind of work load. Obviously there are hours he can work and things of that nature, but he’s really held up well. I always ask his mom, “Does he still enjoy it? Is he still happy?” cause I do care about that, and she says he’s having a wonderful time. What I may be most proud of is that the cast just adopted him.
We had a lot of success casting Tyler Hilton, who was a musician who came and did a great acting job on our show, and we’ve done it again with Kate Voegele, who plays a musician named Mia. Kate’s a great musician, and they’re going to re-release her album on MySpace Records when her character debuts on the show.
We brought on a veteran actress, Daphne Zuniga, and so we got a little bit of mojo from Melrose Place, The Sure Thing, and Spaceballs. Daphne’s had such a great body of work in the past, and she came on to play Brooke’s boss. Well, I should say not really Brooke’s boss, but Brooke’s CEO at Clothes Over Bros. It was just great to be able to sit on set with Daphne and Paul Johansson, who will still be a big part of this season, just to sort of get the historical perspective. They were parts of shows that did it so well, that were similar in a way to ours.
You know, we do still see the adult characters a little bit this year, but we don’t see them near as much. Obviously with the kids getting older and becoming adults a little bit themselves, there wasn’t as much counsel that needed to be done by the adult characters, and Dan is off in prison. It changed the fabric of the show a little bit in that aspect. I’m sure there’s a new character that I’ve missed here or there, but there’s a lot of them.
Just to wrap up, are there any hints you can give us as to what we’ll be seeing in season 5?
Sure. I think the fans that are worried about the show radically changing and not being One Tree Hill, I think that they’ll be very pleased with the direction that we’ve taken this year. Creatively it’s very challenging, and by that I mean that there are some storylines that are unexpected. There are some characters that have changed very much, and yet the soul of the character is the same, but their life situations have dictated that they’ve changed greatly over the last four years.
Lucas will be coaching the Ravens, and he did publish his book that he was working on when we left him. He had some success with it. It wasn’t the biggest hit book in the world, it wasn’t a New York Times bestseller, but it introduced the world to a new, interesting voice and he now struggles with the second book. There are obviously emotional reasons for that, which is part of his journey.
Nathan and Haley have a son who was born in the finale last year, and now he’s four-and-a-half-years-old. Increasingly their lives are challenged as parents, but also they’re young, they feel a little older than most kids do at 22-years-old. Their lives are still very much ahead of them, who are they gonna be and how are they gonna be independently of being parents to Jamie. They have really great stuff this year, and that’s what brings Torrey DeVitto’s character, Carrie, into their world.
Peyton is still very much about music and art and all of those things. That’s how we can see characters like Kevin Federline’s character and Kate Voegele’s.
I’ve mentioned Lucas publishing his book, which brings the character of Lindsey, Michaela McManus’s character, into our world.
Brooke has had a lot of success with Clothes Over Bros, and what does that success mean to her at an early age? Is it still really wonderful for her? Does it still define her, or are there other things that she feels like her life is missing? Which allows us to bring the new characters into her world, Millicent and Victoria.
Alright, well thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, and we’ll definitely be watching tonight.
Okay, and thanks to the fans. We hope they love the season.
– Interview conducted by Don Williams
(Image courtesy of the CW)