Teens drinking on TV may seem like old news, but The O.C.'s underage revelers were particularly noteworthy. Academics say the show led a wave of increasingly prevalent depictions of alcohol and drugs that set it apart from its pruder predecessors of primetime. It also was wildly popular: The O.C. was once the highest rated drama among the 12-17 and 18-34 age groups, and it attracted on average 9.7 million and 7 million viewers during its first and second seasons, respectively, according to Nielsen. (The tamer Dawson's Creek, which ended the same year The O.C. premiered, never hit those numbers.)
Its legacy is still apparent today: The O.C. inspired a few teens-in-paradise knock-offs like The CW's Hidden Palms and paved the way for Gossip Girl, another Josh Schwartz creation that, like Hidden Palms, set off the Parents Television Council due to its portrayals of underage drinking. The O.C.'s more significant contributions, however, may have been in reality television, where it ushered in a wave of MTV programming such as Laguna Beach and Newport Harbor, as well as Bravo's The Real Housewives of Orange County, now one of six franchises that traces its DNA back to the fake housewives of The O.C.
AND... ANYTHING ELSE? Despite popular perceptions, it wasn't actually the teens doing most of the drinking on screen. The University of Antwerp study found the show's younger characters were only responsible for 26 percent of alcohol consumption in the first two seasons. Kirsten Cohen, present during 38 percent of all on-screen alcohol, drank more than any of them, followed by her husband, Sandy, and her friend-turned-stepmother, Julie Cooper, according to the Journal of Advertising study. In fact, though the two studies come to different conclusions about Newport ladies' drink of choice (one says wine and champagne, the other says straight vodka), both claim The O.C. broke another television trend by featuring mostly women as the show's heaviest drinkers.
AND THUS, WE CAN CONCLUDE THAT: In addition its killer soundtrack and self-aware metahumor, The O.C. should also be remembered for portraying partying in a nuanced way that had a ripple effect on American television.