FOX Shifts "The O.C." Back To Wednesday
Is Mischa Barton having the last laugh?
When FOX's teen drama "The O.C." premiered in early August 2003 it became an instant hit with its red-hot first season scoring an average of over 9 million viewers (the top-rated episodes aired in early 2004 on Wednesdays at 9 after American Idol Results Show).
Audiences across the nation fell in love with its tongue-in-cheek self-referential humor, pop culture allusions and brilliant indie music selections. The drama catapulted its previously little-known actors Benjamin McKenzie, Mischa Barton, Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson (or the show's Core Four) into global television superstardom.
But FOX wanted 'The O.C.' to anchor Thursday night, a night it had little success on ever since the network moved O.C.'s predecessor "Beverly Hills, 90210" and its signature Emmy Award-winning animated sitcom "The Simpsons" in the early 90s. Thursday is the most lucrative night for TV advertising revenue and FOX wanted its piece of that fatty pie again.
No one expected "The O.C." to do equally well on Thursdays. But when audiences eroded to 7 million by early 2005 and then to a little over 5 million a year later Josh Schwartz, the young writer who created the series, knew his show was in trouble.
In fact, Mr. Schwartz has recently publicly admitted that many of the creative choices in the past two melodramatic seasons have been driven by the network's pressure to spike the ratings (which should explain Marissa's lesbian fling that did not last much longer than February 2005 sweeps).
Now, Mr. Schwarts says the show's creative team feels liberated as they could probably not do much worse ratings-wise. Although this proved to be a wrong assumption (the 4th season premiere last Thursday hit series-low with a little over 3 million viewers), the critics are pleased to see the drama return to its season one magic.
So what has caused such collapse in ratings? Some believe it is the backlash against the decision to kill off Mischa Barton's character Marissa (in last season's spectacular cliffhanger). The others think FOX's decision to promote the new episodes online may have diluted the numbers. Of course, the fact that the show moved from 8pm to 9pm last January to face CSI and that there'snow a bunch of McCharacters to worry about over on ABC also played a role in it.
Is it too little too late? FOX has decided to air two all-new installments this week. One will air in the show's old Wednesday at 9/8c slot (the episode 'Gringos' already available online via MySpace.com) and the other in its regular Thursday night slot (which means Thanksgiving comes not one, but two weeks early to the Cohen house).
FOX is hoping the show will find its footing on Wednesday nights and may stay there permanently. It has already pulled the underperforming sitcom "Happy Hour" (let's hope that truly miserable half-hour of TV never comes back) and the new reality show "The Rich List". That leaves the space open for "The O.C." to go back to Wednesday nights (Thursdays may get rebranded as all-sitcom/cartoon night) where it could get additional support from FOX #1 show "American Idol" which returns in January.
It all depends on how the show does on Wednesday. This week, "The O.C." will face the fall finale of "Lost", but if FOX is patient enough the drama may benefit from the 13-week hiatus that ABC's mystery drama will be taking in the months to come. Creatively, the show is doing better than it has in years. If only the ratings could follow.