Barton, who's previously claimed she was bullied behind the scenes of the hit series, was later written off after the network ran into a creative "wall" with her character Marissa
In an excerpt from the new tell-all book, Welcome to the O.C.: The Oral History, shared with PEOPLE, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, co-creators of the early 2000s teen drama, shared that there were ulterior motives behind her character’s overdose.
When she was 17-years-old, Barton took on the role of Marissa Cooper who suffered a myriad of trauma and tragedy. In season 1, the show’s four lead characters Ryan (Ben McKenzie), Summer (Rachel Bilson), Seth (Adam Brody) and Marissa took an unsupervised road trip to Tijuana, Mexico. During their excursion, she suffered an overdose and her death was left as a cliffhanger for the series' mid season return.
According to Schwartz, the original pitch for the season finale ended with Marissa driving off of a cliff while under the influence. When another popular drama titled Skins had plans to do “the same thing in their bible,” Fox allegedly had a “big problem” with sharing a similar storyline.
“I was like, ‘Really? What does it matter? They’re all fake things? We’re just making something to show that we have ideas for episodes.’ Then we had to go back and rework it, and it became an overdose,” he explains.
Marissa’s cliffhanger had “a dual purpose” of exciting fans for the show’s return and giving “the network executives an escape hatch on a performer they had been wary about.”
Schwartz claims the stage was set for Marissa’s death in Tijuana because Fox “wanted to have the ability to make a casting change.”
“And then she broke out immediately—she was how people knew the show,” he adds. “So she was safe.”
While the writers abandoned their plans for Marissa’s demise in season 1, they revisited the idea for the season 3 finale when Fox felt that had hit a “wall” with her character and began having trouble with the higher ups on the show.
Marissa became involved in a car accident caused by her ex-boyfriend Kevin Volchok (Cam Gigandet). Ryan held her in his arms as she drew her final breath and her eyes went lifeless.
“It was a little bit of a bummer,” Barton says of finding out about getting written off the show. “But it was sort of headed in the direction that it was becoming inevitable, I guess. The character was just doing too much. And I think they ran out of places for her to go. It was not the best thing in the world, [but] there wasn’t much you could do at that point. It was whether she could sail off into the sunset, or die. At that point, I guess it’s better to have the more dramatic ending.”
While lack of creative direction may have been a contributing factor to Barton’s premature exit, in May 2021, the actress, 37, claimed that she departed from The O.C. after she was bullied behind the scenes.
"There were people on that set that were very mean to me," she told E! News. "It wasn't, like, the most ideal environment for a young, sensitive girl who's also been thrust into stardom to have to put up with.”
She continued, "But, you know, I also loved the show and had to build up my own walls and ways of getting around dealing with that and the fame that was thrust specifically at me. Just dealing with like, the amount of invasion I was having in my personal life, I just felt very unprotected, I guess is the best way to put it."
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Welcome to The O.C.: The Oral History hits bookshelves on Tuesday.
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