All week, Vulture has been celebrating the lasting joy bestowed upon us when FOX launched The O.C. in 2003, but the ensuing decade has not been as kind to some of the network’s other fare from that era. I know this because, while putting together Vulture’s quiz about The O.C. (how’d you score?), I worked off a copy of the show’s first season that had been recorded off the original broadcast feed. Along with all of the soap’s now-quaint early-aughts references (at one point, Zach asks Seth to hit him up with some JPEGs later), the recordings opened another window into that moment in time via the obtrusive cross-promotional ads that FOX frequently plastered on the lower third of the screen. The network used the space to pimp everything from its household staples American Idol and The Simpsons to buzzy new fare such as Arrested Development and Wonderfalls; more hilariously, FOX attempted to hoist the offensive and oft forgotten Playing It Straight on the highly-rated shoulders of Ryan Atwood and friends.
To cap off Vulture’s tribute to The O.C., here is the full list of every program FOX advertised during the first season of The O.C.
Throughout the season, FOX’s heavy hitters were given their fair share of screen time. The behemoth singing contest American Idol received multiple plugs in 2003, including one promoting a Christmas special and another hawking the “Uncut, Uncensored, and Untalented” special that used William Hung as its icon.
COPS, The Simpsons, and King of the Hill also got plenty of love.
Well-known dramas like 24 and Boston Public continued to make the advertising rounds, along with Bryan Fuller’s cult favorite Wonderfalls and the fascinating but flawed Tru Calling (a show so ratings-deprived that even Jason Priestley’s guest-starring arc was dangled).
While 2003 was the magical year that brought us Arrested Development, it also brought us Wanda at Large and its wacky premise that finds Wanda Sykes playing a stand-up comedian recruited to be a correspondent on the fictional political talk show The Beltway Gang. Fun!
Two one-time-only events were advertised during The O.C.: the broadcast premiere of Dr. Dolittle 2 and the 2003 Billboard Music Awards. (A revealing glimpse at the latter: 50 Cent nabbed Artist of the Year, Beyoncé was crowned New Female Artist of the Year, Duo/Group and New Duo/Group of the Year went to 3 Doors Down and Evanescence, respectively.)
The Game Shows
Remember Performing As… (contestants would sing as their favorite artists) and Celebrity Spelling Bee? Now you will.
The Reality Shows
Last but not least: reality, the most cringe-worthy genre of FOX programming that happened during the 2003-2004 season. We were blessed with such beautiful garbage as The Simple Life, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance and The Next Joe Millionaire. (That last one pimped via an animated ad featuring gold-digging brides chasing a groom! Cool! Not offensive at all!)
And then there were four oddly contrived “dating” shows: Temptation Island 3, the too-similar Paradise Hotel, and the ludicrous Forever Eden, as well as the most ridiculous reality show of them all (and possibly ever), Playing It Straight. That corker sequestered a lone female contestant on a ranch with a bunch of eligible bachelor dudes, only there’s a catch: Some of them are only pretending to be straight, and each week, she eliminates the guys she suspects of being gay.