Tonight at 9 p.m., Summer Roberts, played by Rachel Bilson, will begin her first year at Brown in the fourth season of the Fox drama “The OC.” Formerly a devotee of shopping and gossip, Summer will reinvent herself at Brown as a left-wing environmental activist.
Though this transformation may feed into stereotypes of Brown as a hotbed of liberal activism, Josh Schwartz, creator and executive producer of “The OC,” said Summer’s transformation is not intended as a reflection of Brown in particular but rather as an example of the self-discovery that college freshmen undergo on any campus.
“I don’t know if (Summer’s transformation) is accurate so much to Brown as to the larger college experience,” Schwartz told The Herald. “You can find people transforming themselves into activists on almost any campus.”
Michael Chapman, vice president for public affairs and University relations, agreed with Schwartz. Chapman has been in contact with the production staff since the show’s characters first began considering applying to Brown last fall.
“Her transformation isn’t because she comes to Brown. It’s about her coming to terms with the death of her friend, Marissa,” Chapman said, referring to the events of the third season’s finale.
Chapman, who has read through the scripts for this season’s episodes, said he thinks the show will lead to positive exposure for Brown.
“The show overall has been very favorable to Brown,” Chapman said. “My main concern is to make sure they don’t do anything to harm the University’s reputation, and so far that hasn’t happened.”
Schwartz, who grew up in Providence and attended the Wheeler School, said he hopes the show will include scenes featuring Providence as well as Brown.
“I think Brown is fairly well represented, and you’ll hear many references throughout the season to, you know, getting shawarma on Thayer Street,” Schwartz said. “I’ll do what I can to slip in those insider references that make you believe the verisimilitude of the show.”
Schwartz said he wanted to fly the cast and crew to Providence to shoot an episode of the fourth season but couldn’t because filming in Providence is “just too expensive.”
“But we’ve got a lot of stock shots of Providence, so hopefully that’ll work,” Schwartz said.
Though Schwartz never made it to Providence to shoot, his staff has dealt directly with Brown’s administration to ensure that the show maintains a positive relationship with the University.
“Brown has to be a part of all the conversations because they want to make sure the school is represented appropriately and positively,” Schwartz said. “They’ve been fantastic partners, and it’s been a blast.”
Though he has never met with Schwartz personally, Chapman agreed that the production staff has been very open to communication with the administration.
He said he appreciated the publicity afforded the University by a spot on “The OC” because “the show has exposed Brown to a lot of young people” since it was first mentioned.
Whether the extra exposure will lead to an increase in applications for admission is impossible to discern, Chapman said.
Kevin Burns ’08, a fan of “The OC” who grew up in the real Orange County, said he hopes and expects that Brown’s role on the show will encourage more students to apply.
“Brown is not as well known as other East Coast schools, but since Brown has been on ‘The OC,’ the average person now knows of the school,” Burns wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.
“I ran into one of my teachers from middle school (in Orange County) this summer, and she told me that everybody in her class wants to go to Brown now,” Burns said.
As to whether Summer’s newfound activism is an accurate representation of a Brown student, Burns said he thinks her character’s change would be “an exaggeration of the truth.”
“I think that the activist and hippie Summer is aimed to entertain while also showing that some Brown students care about these issues,” Burns said.
Schwartz said he merely hopes to give viewers a full sense of Summer’s life on Brown’s campus.
“You’ll definitely see her college life well represented,” he said.