How 'The O.C.' Inspired a New Generation of Music and Reality TV

In August 2003, FOX introduced a new kind of teen drama — one that was just as much for the parents as it was for the intended audience. But the show was much more than a TV show. The O.C. was an inspiration for future generations of television and music. 

Most fans think The O.C. was a series that burnt out too soon. Fortunately, The O.C. lives on in popular reality TV shows and music. 

Actors like Ben McKenzie and Adam Brody got their start on ‘The O.C.’ 

For screenwriter and producer Josh Schwartz, casting The O.C. was of paramount importance. He wanted the best talent for each role, regardless of whether they were playing an adult or a high schooler on the show. 

“We wanted to make it very clear that the adults were going to be just as important in this world as the kids,” Schwartz told Daily Beast during a 2013 interview. In this way, Schwartz felt he could communicate to adult viewers that The O.C. was “a show for them as much as the kids.” 

The O.C. wasn’t solely in the business of kickstarting the careers of up-and-coming actors, though. 

‘The O.C.’ brought indie music to the mainstream by accident 

From Death Cab For Cutie to the Phantom Planet song used in the title sequence, The O.C. introduced a generation of kids to an entirely different music genre. But Schwartz says that wasn’t on purpose. 

“I don’t know if I feel responsible [for making indie music mainstream],” Schwartz told TV Guide in 2013. “I guess I’m happy that all these bands are making a nice living.”

Ironically, Schwartz wasn’t trying to be ahead of the times or advance anyone’s music career in particular. It was all about the music the series could afford. 

“We didn’t have a lot of money, so it was fortunate that there were a lot of indie rock acts because they were easier to license,” he added. “They [also] had an appetite to be licensed because at that moment there was no iTunes, there was no internet radio.” 

If an indie rock band wanted to make it in the early 2000s, securing a spot on The O.C. was the way to be heard. Except for Arcade Fire. 

“The one band I remember turning us down was Arcade Fire early on because they didn’t want to license anything back then,” said Schwartz. “I still managed to love the band, despite them saying no.”

‘The O.C.’ inspired future reality shows like ‘Laguna Beach’ and ‘Real Housewives’ 

The O.C. was a scripted drama about a troubled teen entering the lives of the well-to-do people in Orange County. Now, there’s a housewives franchise in almost every major city in the United States, but it started with the original Real Housewives of Orange County. And we have Schwartz to thank for that. 

“You’re welcome, America,” Schwartz said, calling The O.C. the “accidental legacy.” The first episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County premiered in March 2006, more than three years after The O.C. But it followed the real-life versions of the fictional women Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) or Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson) knew. 

Shows like Laguna Beach and The Hills are almost carbon copies of The O.C., but with real-life teens instead of fictional characters.  

“You know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess is the expression,” Schwartz added. “And so are reality shows based on [The O.C.] I’m flattered.”

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