Since the season three finale of The OC, one thing that has remained a constant is the completely false notion that Mischa demanded off the show. To this day, people still blame her for leaving and for the demise of the show as a whole.
One of the most frustrating things about The O.C. experience was that the producers and the network really threw Mischa under the bus. When we found out Marissa was going to be written out, everyone basically let the media run with the ‘Mischa is a diva’ headlines and didn’t bother to stress that it was a creative/network decision. So the blame has been on Mischa’s shoulders this whole time.
Now we’re ten years later and it’s the anniversary of The O.C. and creator Josh Schwartz has hit the interview rounds and is finally being clear, upfront and direct. He’s talking about the fact that Mischa’s departure was more of a way to appease the critics who always had it in for Marissa.
Here are some quotes from a couple of interviews that I hope will inform people of what actually happened.
The Truth About Marissa’s Death
“Marissa’s death [is something] I’ve given a lot of thought to,” Schwartz also mentioned in talking about things he would’ve done differently. Does he regret killing the character off? “It’s just something that gives you pause,” he explained. “The day after it aired or the night it aired, there was a real outcry from a big contingency of the fans of the show, those who are not television critics or those who did not post on Television Without Pity … I think a lot of good stuff happened in Season 4 that came from it, but it was definitely a big decision for the show.”
There had long been rumors about whether or not it was Barton’s decision to leave the show or if it wasn’t, why she was killed off. “It was a hundred percent a creative decision for the show and it was born out of both feeling creatively like it was the direction the show needed to head and also, quite frankly, a function of needing to do something big to shake up the show at the end of that third season to both get the show to come back for a fourth season and, I think, to give the show a real creative jolt in Season 4 and move the show in its own surprising, unexpected direction,” Schwartz clarified. “I feel like we’re all really proud of Season 4 because it returned a lot of the humor and heart to the show that may have gotten lost in some of the soapier stuff that happened in Season 3. It also walked a really difficult tonal line of being emotional because we had to deal with the fallout of the biggest thing that ever happened on the show and also, I think there was a lot of humor that got mined in that season and a lot of heart — whether it was how Summer was having her meltdown after Marissa’s death by going to Brown and going green or the rise of Taylor Townsend [Autumn Reeser] in Ryan Atwood’s life. But Mischa showed up every day and did her job and did a great job and worked really hard so it had nothing to do with her.”
Okay, so to jump ahead for a minute, you kill Marissa at the end of season 3, which to a certain like-minded viewer…
Josh Schwartz: I think I did it for you. Just to get you off my back.
… for the adult audience, this is a cause for celebration. But for the teenage girls, this is the worst thing you’ve ever done.
Josh Schwartz: Yeah. And by the way, look at the ratings in season four.
Clearly there were more of them than there were of us.
Josh Schwartz: Yeah. And that has been a big lesson for me, that the Twitterverse is a one-to-one ratio. For every one person who tweets about that, that represents one person. That’s not one person representing a thousand people.
Was it like breaking it to Mischa Barton that you were killing off her character in season three?
That was not a fun conversation to have. It was a difficult time on the show. I think some of the younger actors on the show had other aspirations. The show was at a challenging place and we were under a lot of pressure in terms of ratings and to get the show back for the fourth season and all that. We had to do something pretty dramatic. It always felt like it was in the cards for this character — that she would have a tragic ending. She was a tragic heroine from the very first time we met her. And so I think Mischa understood that it all made sense for Marissa’s character. But obviously, it’s always challenging, hard to leave a show that you’ve been a part of. She gave it her all in that episode. And there were a lot of angry teenage girls blowing up the Internet that night.
Everyone had an opinion, much of it negative. How did you feel about that response?
It freaked me out. You know, you’re making a show that you want people to enjoy, and like, there were a lot of people who were upset in a way that was impactful on me. I know television critics had their issues with that character, but there were a lot of audience members for whom that was their favorite character. And they were upset. Immediately, I was like, “Oh god, I hope I did the right thing.”
What question do you get asked the most about The O.C.?
I think the question I get asked the most is, “Why did you kill Marissa?”
So why did you?
It’s a complicated, multifaceted question. It had as much to do with creatively feeling like this was always in the cards for this character and she was an inherently tragic heroine, and part of the Ryan/Marissa story was him trying to save her from a fate that she couldn’t be rescued from, and part of it had to do with pressure from the network in terms of ratings, and what we could do for the show’s fourth season. For a lot of critics, that character was a source of frustration. For a lot of audience members, that was their favorite character.
Was it also because Mischa Barton wanted off the show?
Mischa didn’t want off the show anymore than any of the other kids wanted off the show. [Laughs] It was a complicated chemistry with the cast … But she certainly wasn’t actively seeking to leave the show.