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The Real Reason The O.C. Was Canceled After 4 Seasons

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Some shows burn hot and fast before they flame out. Few series were hotter than The O.C., a sun-soaked teen melodrama that took the television world by storm when it debuted on Fox in the summer of 2003. You can still see it today on HBO Max.

Created by Josh Schwartz and set in the wealthy and materialistic world of Orange County, California, the series stars Ben McKenzie as Ryan Atwood, a teen from a broken home in the Inland Empire. He is taken in by his kind-hearted public defender, Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) and his wealthy family in Newport Beach. A classic fish-out-of-water story, the show follows Ryan's struggles to fit into his new life. He always seems ready to bail, but a close friendship with his sarcastic foster brother, Seth (Adam Brody), and a flirtation with the bored rich girl next door, Marissa (Mischa Barton), helps him find his way.

It didn't take long for viewers to fall in love with the characters. The first season of The O.C. averaged more than 9 million viewers a week as fans were immediately drawn to the stylish and extravagant world of Newport. Ryan proved to be the perfect audience surrogate for viewers, most of whom would never experience a life like his. However, as much as fans loved the show, it didn't take long for the shine to wear off.

The O.C. tried to do too much, too fast

When it debuted, The O.C. was a near-perfect blend of comedy, melodrama, and teen angst. The show also burned through plot faster than anything on Fox in recent memory. With 27 episodes in its first season (including the seven that aired over the summer), The O.C. quickly covered a lot of ground. The only direction it could go was down, and by the middle of season 2, the writers seemed to be struggling to come up with new, engaging storylines. The quality of the story soon started to decline, and ratings dipped with each season as the show lost sight of what made it great.

Eventually, the writers decided to kill off the embattled Marissa at the end of season 3. The decision was a shocking one, and while it definitely turned off some viewers, it also freed the series to make a creative comeback in the shortened final season. Although the ratings for The O.C. didn't bounce back — the fourth season averaged less than 4 million viewers a week — the show's quality did. By cutting the weakest link, Ryan was free to grow as a character, and the series returned to form. Lighter and funnier than it had been, the series also upgraded Taylor Townsend (Autumn Reeser) to a main character. Unfortunately, the ratings were an insurmountable obstacle and Fox canceled the show, but not before the writers gave the characters an emotionally satisfying final farewell.

All four seasons of The O.C. are streaming on HBO Max.