The Big Picture
- The death of main character Marissa Cooper on The O.C. was a mistake, according to the show’s co-creators, who realized it too late.
- Mischa Barton, who played Marissa, did not want to leave the show and was angered by the decision.
- Fox network asked for Marissa’s death in an attempt to revitalize the show, but it ultimately led to the series being canceled.
As the release of the highly anticipated book Welcome to The O.C.: The Oral History by author Alan Sepinwall approaches, Vanity Fair unveiled an exclusive excerpt that dissects the situation that ultimately became the teen hit series’ demise: The death of fan-favorite (depending on who you ask) main character Marissa Cooper, played by Mischa Barton. The character was one of the driving forces of the entire series, and the show’s co-creator Stephanie Savage reveals in the book that it hit them pretty fast that they had “made a terrible, terrible, terrible mistake.”
As the excerpt shows, there were many factors that ended up resulting in Barton’s exit from the series. The biggest surprise, however, was that the actor did not really want to leave the show. In fact, when it was finally revealed to Barton that she wasn’t going to return to Season 4, she was “angry” — and, according to series co-creator Josh Schwartz, “rightfully so.” What Schwartz, Savage and former The O.C. writer John Stephens reveal was that, back in Season 3, they hit a wall when it came to Marissa and didn’t know what to do with her and Ryan (Ben McKenzie). Barton herself reveals that, looking back, she understands where the decision was coming from:
“It was a little bit of a bummer. But it was sort of headed in the direction that it was becoming inevitable, I guess. The character was just doing too much. And I think they ran out of places for her to go. It was not the best thing in the world, [but] there wasn’t much you could do at that point. It was whether she could sail off into the sunset, or die. At that point, I guess it’s better to have the more dramatic ending.”
Mischa Barton Was Isolated and Felt “Left Out”
At the same time, the excerpt reveals there was a lot going on behind-the-scenes that influenced the way that Barton existed on set. The star herself reveals that, due to the popularity of the show and her character, there were years in which all she got was “six days off in the whole year,” and that was on top of shooting fourteen to sixteen hours a day. It didn’t help that Barton was much younger than the rest of the cast, which made her feel isolated and sometimes blatantly ignored, to the point in which she’d sit alone in between takes “with her book,” as executive producer Bob DeLaurentis recalls.
Ultimately, Fox network decided that Season 3 of The O.C. was so bland that they asked the writers to do something dramatic to win back the audience, and former Fox chairman Peter Liguori specifically asked for Marissa to die. At that point, the cast was also feeling the strain of starring in a hit series and working long hours, and a lot of them wanted to leave, including Barton and Adam Brody. However, both cast and crew only realized too late that killing off Marissa would not solve the series’ problems, nor conquer fans’ sympathy. Not by chance, the show was canceled barely a year after Season 3 aired its game-changing episode.
Welcome to The O.C.: The Oral History will be released on November 28. You can read the full excerpt at the Vanity Fair website.