The Publicist:

Famously successful PR push puts 'The OC' stars on the map

Famously successful PR push puts 'The OC' stars on the map

I lived in Orange County back in the mid-80s, before it was cool. Before it was "the OC." The sun-drenched county of 2.5 million people has since experienced a remarkable ethnic transformation, from an 81% white population in 1980 to less than 50% now. More remarkably, this once-sleepy bedroom community is now a hot locale, thanks to the Fox TV series, The OC. Expectations for the show, now a hit with the coveted youth audience, were initially low, explains Fox publicist Jason Clark, who helped launch American Idol. He even admits that he half expected The OC to be off the air before a new season of Idol began. Though the show featured a "name" in Peter Gallagher, it centered on three virtually unknown actors: Adam Brody, Mischa Barton, and Ben McKenzie. "The only outlet we [could] get to the set was Extra, which is distributed by Warner Bros., which also produces The OC," Clark says. "Even that wasn't easy." Fox publicists turned up the heat with a splashy launch party at the hip Sharkey's bar in Hermosa Beach (which is not in the OC), hiring 100 extras to attend, mostly young women. Soon hundreds of partygoers were lining up, cheering the arrival of cast members unknown to the "over-21" crowd. "With all the kids going crazy for Adam, Mischa, and Ben," Clark recalls, we thought, 'Wow, we may have something here.'" Lacking the integrated media advantages of the Big Three networks, Fox smartly leveraged the success of Idol to get the young OC cast into meetings with talk-show bookers in New York during a two-day press tour. It resulted in appearances on programs such as Live with Regis & Kelly and a growing buzz among Big Apple media. (OC producers actually wrote a script around the stars' absence to accommodate the tour.) Buoyed by growing ratings as the season unfolded, Clark went after big game, landing a TV Guide cover and securing stories in The New York Times, LA Times, Details, Entertainment Weekly, and others. "We got multiple hits around the same time," says Clark, "which had a big impact and created the perception that the show had taken off nationally." But with success comes challenges. Today, all but one cast member retains a personal publicist and all are more interested in solo media opportunities. No more group cover photos and interviews. That's life in TV "OC." Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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