"The O.C." Gets Its Groove Back

10/26/2006 1:01 AM PDT

"The O.C." Gets Its Groove Back

There was a time when "The O.C." was THE buzz show -- hot cast, great ratings, and all the hype FOX could muster. But after a lackluster third season and a move to the most competitive time slot on television, creator and executive producer Josh Schwartz feels the show is making a return to what made it a breakthrough hit when it premiered three summers ago.

And after getting a sneak peek at the first four episodes, we have to agree with him.

"I really wanted the show this season to get back to the heart and the humor that maybe wasn't as much in evidence last year," Schwartz tells TMZ.

Premiering November 2 on FOX (the first episode will be available on MySpace on October 26), the first three episodes focus on how the characters are dealing with Marissa's death -- Ryan living in the back room of a bar, Summer away at Brown and Seth working at a comic book store. "Obviously you want the reaction from the characters to feel organic and true to them," Schwartz says. "At the same time, the level and grief and shock was so great for these characters, that they could also react in completely illogical ways, character-defining ways."

When you see Summer trying to reinvent herself in college as a tree-hugging hippy, you'll know what he means.

But even more challenging than the death of a main character, is going up against two of the biggest shows on TV: "CSI" and "Grey's Anatomy."

"When I found out what our time slot was, I called up FOX and asked them, 'Can you loan out "American Idol" to the CW so we can just complete the trifecta?'" Schwartz joked.

"But I think last year some of the decisions that were made were about chasing the ratings and were not the best decisions creatively for the show. And I think this year, not having to worry about that, has allowed myself and all the writers and the cast to have fun doing the show and hopefully it will be really satisfying for the audience."

And pay close attention to episodes three and four -- you might notice a few little jokes about a certain hospital that is the setting for a certain hit show.

As for other developments this season, look for Taylor Townsend to develop a new crush, the best Chrismukkah episode ever, R&B sensation Chris Brown playing a band geek, and, Schwartz says, "Keep your eye on that dating service [that Julie and Kirsten run], it may evolve into something a little more nefarious. Julie Cooper, Newport madam? That's all I'm saying."