Josh Schwartz on ‘Gossip Girl’ and Avoiding the Mistakes of ‘The O.C.’

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What made us fall in love with The O.C. in the first place — and what ultimately led to its demise — was how quickly it burned through plot points. (Marissa’s mom slept with Marissa’s high-school boyfriend by episode twenty!) It burned through its creator, too, and Josh Schwartz suffered a highly publicized flameout when he attempted to run two shows at once (the second being Athens, about a college English professor, which never made it to air). Now he's back with two new shows, tonight's Gossip Girl and NBC's Chuck. While Daily Intel will be your home for all things Gossip Girl once the series starts, we caught up with Schwartz and asked him what he learned from his experience on The O.C. — and which plot points he'd change if he had the chance.

Your last attempt to run two shows at once didn't go too well, would you agree?
Yeah, that was crazy. That was just a bad idea. That will go down in history — not actual history, but my history. It was a very weird position I got put in at 27. I'd just come off 27 episodes of a first year show, having never really worked on anything before. And I was writing the majority of The O.C. myself. So [for Fox] to come to me and say 'We want you to do a second show simultaneously,' was not a good idea on many levels.

Probably wasn't a good idea on your part, either.
I take full responsibility for not being able to say 'No.' Absolutely. But you get put in that position and you come off a year like that first year of the show and you're like, 'Yeah, we can do this!'

And the learning experience was?
Don't do two shows at once. Oops! But that show was never going to be a concept the network would like.

How do you avoid a second flameout?
First of all, I don’t know that you can. It moved really, really fast, and, look, there were a few things that were complicated. One was, yeah, we were blowing through story as fast as can be, which also is what I think made that first season so much fun. The show also had this self-aware, postmodern sensibility that’s hard to sustain sometimes because it’s hard to commit to being one of those kind of shows but also commenting on it. Also, I personally burned out, just trying to do that much work over the first two years and trying to do the second show. By the time the third season rolled around, I definitely was not as focused or as inspired as one needs to be.

What will you do differently?
The self-awareness thing, I can’t avoid. I’m just a snarky guy. But with the voice of Gossip Girl, there’s a sort of self-aware machine built into the show. If you were to tell me right now that Gossip Girl was going to have the exact same run that The O.C. had, I would shake your hand and say, “That sounds fantastic.” I have very few regrets on how it all went, and it was a tremendous learning experience.

Are there any plot lines you wish you could do over on The O.C.?
Oh, sure, lots of them.

Which ones?
Thank you. I love how you’re the only one who will follow up with the next question. I would say the whole first half of the third season was a total mess.

I thought Marissa’s lesbianism was a bit annoying.
No, that I do not regret. The only thing I’m bummed about that is that they made us write Olivia Wilde off the show much, much sooner than we had planned. I wanted her to stick around. I love Olivia Wilde. I think she’s terrific. I wanted to keep that character on. But they told us, “People are worried about this episode and this storyline and blah blah blah.” So we had to write her out way sooner than we expected, so it just became much more rushed. But I liked the whole idea. I thought it was intriguing, beyond the obvious factor. The other interesting thing is that the first time they kissed, it was actually very romantic and surprising and kind of touching kiss, and they made us cut like three-quarters of it out, so what you got was like this peck, basically. And then you saw the commercials for it, like, “Don’t miss the last five seconds for the hottest kiss ever!” And you’re like, “We’re dead.” Not only did we lose all credibility with the way we were selling it, but what we were told to do was not what we were selling.

What made the third season stink?
We were told to add this Jerri Ryan character to the show that we had no idea what to do with. We were just told we had to add an adult female character. It went nowhere, and we had no plan for it, and it just didn’t fit the show. And then we went down the wrong road with this kid playing Johnny [the alcoholic surfer kid who fell for Marissa]. It was just flat. All of a sudden, everything the show mocked, it kind of became. And then killing Mischa [Barton] off. I think it led to a real creative resurgence in the fourth season, but that was hard decision. I’ll never know if it was the right decision. I’m not sure ultimately. It was the right decision creatively because it led to the best season we had since the first season, just because all of a sudden there were a lot of new possibilities and it just opened up the show in a lot of ways. Marissa Cooper just became mired in the story. The character was just this Velcro strip of melodrama. And the Ryan-Marissa drama just became a stranglehold around the show, and we couldn’t figure out any other way to break out of it.
—Jada Yuan

Related: Josh Schwartz, Take Two [NYM]