Is ONE TREE HILL looking to go out with a bang or a pretty wrapped bow as it ends its 9th season? From all indications from the two-minute teaser which jump-starts this final season, and from the cryptic remarks of the cast and creator, fans better be prepared to break out the Kleenex. The body under a white sheet in the morgue make be the best clue, but given the number of tears shed at a special sneak peek screening of ONE TREE HILL’s 9th season opener by the cast last week, one of the show’s beloved characters is not going to make it through the season.
It was both a joyful reunion and a night of misty-eyes as the cast of ONE TREE HILL watched the screening with fans and talked afterwards about some of their favorite memories. In fact, one fan was so choked up by how much the show touched her heart that she was unable to speak and it prompted star Sophia Bush to rush to her aid with a handy tissue. (Fortunately, co-star Shantal VanSanten had the foresight to bring tissues and had come to Sophia’s rescue just minutes before.) Each of the appearing cast members, which included: Sophia Bush, Bethany Joy Galeotti, Paul Johansson, Shantal VanSanten, Stephen Colletti, Robert Buckley, Tyler Hilton, Lee Norris and Jackson Brundage, and creator/producer Mark Schwahn, were clearly feeling the nostalgia and the weight of the memories of so many years working together. While filming had only wrapped a month or so before, the finality of knowing that this is “THE END” and that there will not be new memories in their home-away-from-home in Wilmington, North Carolina seemed to be startle them all over again.
For Sophia Bush, Bethany Joy Galeotti, Paul Johansson, Lee Norris, along with M.I.A. James Lafferty, they were the last remaining original cast members from the pilot. Co-stars Chad Michael Murray, Hilarie Burton, Moira Kelly, Craig Sheffer, Barbara Alyn Woods, Barry Corbin, and Antwon Tanner had wrapped their characters’ storylines long before.
The newer cast members Robert Buckley, Shantal VanSanten, Stephen Colletti, Jackson Brundage and even Tyler Hilton may not have been there for the full nine seasons, but their tenure was no less impressive spanning several seasons on one of the few shows that originated back in the glory days of the WB.
Each and every one of the actors sitting before the fans that night alternated between gleeful joy and looks of profound sadness that the show had come to an end. While fans may shed tears at the loss of their favorite show, it is no less hard to say goodbye for the close-knit cast who treasured their time working on the show.
Straight from creator/producer Mark Schwahn, he said he was not looking for “happy endings.” Instead, he focused on writing a story that is tinged with a bit of heart-ache and bitter-sweetness. Because this was the last chance to do it, he also wanted this 9th season to take more risks. So the show is not going quietly into the night, it will grip fans’ hearts and make them remember each and every precious moment.
Dispelling some of the apprehension that Mark’s words invoked, and clearly unable to contain herself, Sophia burst out she is simply excited to see what the fans think of it all. It was a big year for her as she was given the opportunity to direct the second to last episode, which propels the characters towards their momentous finale. Working with each of her castmates in that pivotal and adrenaline-rushed episode left her breathless and tingling with anticipation.
In response to the question of who is under the sheet in the morgue, Mark quickly quipped, “Not telling!” But, like Sophia, he is dying to see how the fans react to that revelation.
When asked what they will remember the most about the 9th season, the responses were varied. Joy said that she was thrilled to have Tyler back as his excitement and focus made each scene that much more rewarding and fun to work on together. Sophia chimed in to add that Tyler’s return is like seeing a unicorn: it is a rare and special treat! Then Paul said cryptically, “You have no idea what Dan will do this season” and, if the smug smile on his face was any indication, Dan is likely to rain down Hell on Earth if given the chance. Which may very well be true, given that the significant line from the opening episode was Nathan Scott saying, “Hell is empty – all the devils are already here.” Those words may be eerily prophetic. Mark also explained that he really wanted the characters of Dan Scott and Chris Keller back for the final season as he thought they made great antagonists “stirring the pot.” Finally, Sophia said that, for her, it was amazing exploring Brooke as a mother and a natural protector – the natural culmination for a beautiful journey and that she was absolutely satisfied with where Brooke’s journey had taken her. She is also grateful to her character for teaching her to own her successes and failures.
For Mark, wrapping a scene at the river court in the finale as well as revisiting Karen’s Café where it all began 9 years ago, were some of his favorite final memories. He recalled the bitter-sweetness of finishing the pilot and not yet knowing if they were going to be picked up and how he would be heart-broken if they did not get a chance to tell the stories he knew were waiting to be told. Yet nine years later, and here they are. So many great stories, remarkable memories and magnificent moments. A treasure by any count.
As was noted time-and-time again through the night as question-after-question was answered about their favorite memories from other the years and this final season, there was so much to appreciate and be grateful for. Joy also wisely noted, “No one was taking it for granted. We all wanted to appreciate every moment.” Mark added that this season remains his favorite because the countdown to the end made him savor and appreciate it more. He emphasized that he wanted to both honor the longtime fans who had been there since Day One and reward them with a sensational season. With fingers-crossed, they all hope that through the final episode, the fans will savor each moment along with them.
So while Paul may remember the scene where he got to kiss Bethany over and over again for each take before the camera, or Shantal will remember her heart in her hand at the end of each season as they awaited their renewal announcement, or Bethany will remember all those heart-tugging speeches that Haley made to Brooke over the years, or Lee will remember visiting the kids in Honey Grove, Texas, or Rob will remember his very first day on set and working with his lovely co-star Shantal, or Stephen will remember all the fantastic musical performances at Trick – the one thing that they will all remember fondly is the friendships they made. ONE TREE HILL was never just about the characters; it was about the actors, writers, producers and everyone else working on the show and how it indelibly impacted and influenced their lives as well. Nine years. Nine wonderful years. Not quite a lifetime, but surely a timespan to change lives. It gave them — and us — memories, friendships and 187 episodes to cherish.
It may be the end, but never goodbye. Wipe your tears, laugh and smile. This is just the beginning.
So tune in for ONE TREE HILL’s final season on Wednesday, January 11th at 8:00 p.m. on the CW. It is time to celebrate!
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