October 2, 2003
‘O.C.’: How a Young Creator Spells Success
Josh Schwartz doesn't sleep much on Tuesday nights anymore.
That's the night his new show, "The O.C.," airs on FOX, and the weekly insomnia awaiting the public's response has become an occupational hazard ever since.
Over coffee early one morning, Schwartz, the 27-year-old who's being touted as the youngest person ever to create his own television network drama, discussed his recent starburst since the show debuted in August. "We're starting to settle now," he said, looking disheveled by design in vintage green T-shirt, powder blue cords and sneakers.
The Jewish writer and executive producer has cause to relax, as Fox just picked up a full season of his teen drama -- "it's not a soap" -- about a tony Newport Beach gated community. While the show is currently on hiatus for Major League Baseball playoffs and the World Series, it is set to resume on Oct. 30. -- hopefully resuming its summer spot as the highest-rated drama with teens, as well as pulling in the key coveted demographic of 18-49-year olds.
"The O.C." is centered on the Cohen family and Ryan, the troubled teen from Chino they adopt (Benjamin McKenzie). Schwartz has infused a little bit of Jewish soul into the predominantly whitebread "O.C.," with Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher), a liberal Jewish pro-bono lawyer, and his son, Seth, a nerdy and sarcastic high school senior (played by the unlikeliest of geeks, Adam Brody). Kirsten Cohen (Kelly Rowan) is the WASPy mom who has garnered them entree into this exclusive world, as she has the money from working in her father's real estate development business.
So far, hints at the characters' Jewishness have been limited to throwaway lines. Explaining why he can't get along with Kirsten's uber-WASP dad when he comes to visit, Sandy says, "I'm still Jewish." Seth makes reference to studying the Talmud and to his Jewfro in two recent episodes, and Schwartz has promised a season finale involving "Chrismakah," wherein Ryan has to make the little money he has to purchase one gift last for eight.
Explaining this choice, Schwartz said, "For Sandy it just felt like one more thing to add.... But it felt like it was a natural thing for his character, coming from his background and how it would make him sort of feel a little bit even more out of place in Newport, and for Seth, as well."
Much of the basis for 'The O.C.' is autobiographical, Schwartz told the Journal. Raised Reform in Providence R.I. to parents who were Jewish toy inventors, Schwartz says he based his characters on people he knew in Providence or at USC, where he majored in film. Of all the "O.C." characters, he says Seth Cohen's take on the world is closest to his own: "Sort of a smart ass, but with an underlying sweetness."
"I remember when I was a kid I was always looking for someone like that, that was cool, to kind of get behind, and hopefully Seth Cohen will be that to inspire more kids to be proud of their background," Schwartz said, "But it's not gonna be a Star of David burning on the Cohens' front lawn or anything inflammatory like that. I think we just want to sort of weave it into the background of these characters and have it be part of their personal culture."
Brody, for one, is pleased with this decision. As a secular Jewish actor playing a Jewish character, he said, "I like the way Josh does it. It's self-deprecating. I never want to be on 'Seventh Heaven,'" he said, referring to the moralizing WB show about a reverend's family.
For Jews living in Orange County, it's doubtful whether being Jewish makes them feel out of place. "I think if Jews feel isolated, they isolate themselves," said Elsa Goldberg, 39, from Laguna Beach. She said there were many Jewish organizations available to people looking to meet fellow Jews.
She finds other aspects of the show off the mark as well, a sentiment expressed by quite a few who live in the O.C. There is, however, at least one thing she thinks Schwartz got half right. "I think that there's probably a lot of intermarriage out here," she said, "but Jews always seem to find each other."
Schwartz isn't reading all of the criticism, but he admits to perusing the message boards online. "You gotta check in," he says, "and I find if anybody starts to rag on a certain element of the show then I have to go in and make fun of it in the next episode.... But it's interesting ... as soon as the show airs, five minutes later you can go online and see what people thought about the show and that's really exciting. Then sweat over it next week."
Despite being want for sleep, Schwartz doesn't seem to be sweating too much at the criticism, nor the pressure of all his new responsibility. He's mostly just grateful. "It's really exciting and I just try not to blow it. Just try not to have too many people hate you for not appreciating it. Because I do appreciate it."
"The O.C." summer season runs on FOX in October if the baseball playoffs end early. The new season will begin on Thursday, Oct. 30 at 9 p.m.