November 15, 2006
The OC Gets Buzz from Acknowledging Competition: The Power of Internet Rumors

Viewers/readers/listeners like referentiality. And, in pop culture, most people really enjoy cross-references. You know, the kind of witty writing that get people talking while not really obstructing their enjoyment of the show, a reward for viewers who are in on the joke but that take nothing away from those who don't. That's what I thought was so clever about the recent campaign by The OC. For those TV junkies who follow ratings and the like, most people know that The OC has been on some people's endangered list after disappointing ratings. The show was programmed against Grey's Anatomy and CSI this season, another sign of Fox's lack of confidence in the show to carry a night, since those two programs carry so much of the audience.

But few shows have been better at referencing across pop culture than The OC, and it has helped make what may have been considered just a standard teen drama series otherwise respected among some circles that would have hated most shows of this sort. By referencing comic book culture and across music and television, the show has tipped its hat to various fan communities throughout the past few seasons. Nevertheless, last Thursday['s mention may have been the most ingenious, and now fan communities are talking.

And they aren't just talking about the Chili's appearance, either.

Earlier this month, the rumors started creeping across the Internet--one of the characters from The OC was leaving the show for another primetime show. What started it all? We can thank The OC's creator Josh Schwartz. In a piece by The Boston Globe's Suzanne C. Ryan, Schwartz announced his plans to have a character leave the show for Seattle Grace, the fictional hospital where its competitor, Grey's Anatomy, is located. Now, the reference, and subsequent references to the doctors he is working with at Seattle Grace, was intended to be humor at making reference to the show that, as one fan put it, "IS KICKING YOUR ASS IN THE RATINGS."

However, it didn't end up being bad publicity for the show, even beyond the reference, because some people started reporting not that they were making references to Grey's Anatomy in The OC but that a character would be leaving The OC for Grey's Anatomy. The rumor started popping up various places, such as here and here.

While it doesn't look like it's going to lead to any more than a reference here and there, it has people talking about The OC. And, when you're talking about a show not currently on an order for a full season, any attention is probably good attention. People are now saying that, by making daring references to taboo subjects like their own competition, the show is regaining some of the edge of its original season. But what will this mean? Either way, it's interesting to watch as this rumor continues to spread across the net.



Hi Sam - nice post. When I saw this episode, the Chili's sign screamed PRODUCT PLACEMENT as much as the Nissan Versa in Heroes. The Grey's Anatomy reference - nice touch. It's great to see convergence/cross-reference between shows that target a similar demographic.

But can we just call out the inevitable here? The OC is a dead show walking. Shows never survive once the kids to go to college - A Different World, Saved By The Bell, 90210, That 70s Show. Must be others I'm forgetting...

On November 15, 2006 at 9:50 PM, Sam Ford said:

It's always the struggle of all these shows, and Neal Grigsby, if he's still lurking around the site today, might have quite a bit to add here, considering the time he's spent looking at teen dramas.

It's always the feeling about investing in teens on soaps. While these shows will seemingly never end, it's extremely rare for an actor to stay with the show from the transition to teenager to adult and beyond.

As for other shows, Veronica Mars is a hopeful for making a transition from high school to college. I think The OC's focus on the parents as much as the kids was meant to deflect some of these problems, but it's just a difficult transition . They should at least start with these kids as freshmen so they can get more mileage out of the show.


It is indeed a difficult transition for a show to make, and few have done it well. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is another show I would cite that made the jump from high school to post-high school (only a few of the characters ended up going to college), but there is much disagreement among fans about whether or not they pulled it off well. Especially season 6, when Buffy and pals started making very adult mistakes, it was hard for a viewer used to soap operatic romance to shift gears to a more "adult" paradigm of what you might call "psychological realism."

In a way both the show's writers and the viewers face a problem similar to that of parents who have to send their own children off to college. They have to shift from thinking of their kids as gawky, insecure, but lovable teenagers to adults with adult problems. In short, from children to peers. It's both a difficult transition for writers to represent, and for viewers to buy, when graduation from high school has been built up as this massive rite of passage.

The shows that make the transition best seem to be the shows that from the beginning blur the lines between adolescence and adulthood. Think of Gilmore Girls, which may be the first show I can think of that will depict its lead youth character graduate from both high school and college. But from the beginning Rory was represented as mature for her age, and her mother as exceedingly youthful. The transitions they have to make as characters are therefore more granular and believable. I could ramble on about how the literary or cinematic models of coming of age are problematic for serial television, but I'll leave it at that.

On November 22, 2006 at 12:52 PM, Sam Ford said:

Neal, very interesting points. Soaps, as I have mentioend previously, are an interesting comparison becuase there are regularly characters who make the transition from every stage of life and stay on the show, but these aren't dramas centered solely on the youth charactrers. Often, though, what will happen on soaps is that teen characters will leave to go away to college and will return a few years later, often played by a different actor.

What happens is that teens will use the role as a launching pad, land a more lucrative gig, and then the show will wait an appropriate amount of time and bring a new actor, hoping that they will seem believable in the new role.