Move over, Chuck Lorre — Josh Schwartz is the next generation’s king of TV.
Schwartz, best known for teen shows such as “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl,” expands his empire with “Looking for Alaska,” premiering Oct. 18 on Hulu.
“I love telling stories about kids this age,” says Schwartz, 43, who co-created “Alaska” with longtime creative partner Stephanie Savage.
“Obviously as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to have a different perspective on teenagers, and maybe even more empathy for the fragility of that time. I also have more empathy for parents, now.”
Based on a 2005 novel of the same name from teen-fiction superstar John Green (“The Fault in Our Stars”), “Looking for Alaska” follows Miles Halter (Charlie Plummer, “Boardwalk Empire”), a teenager who goes to a quirky Alabama boarding school. There, he becomes enamored with his classmate Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth, “The Society”) and is ensnared in the mystery surrounding a tragic car accident. (Thanks to the show’s title, you can probably guess which character it involves.)
Filmed in Louisiana, “Looking for Alaska” was a difficult story to adapt, says Schwartz. It’s an enigma that’s unsolvable by design. The circumstances around Alaska’s car crash are never clear and left for the other characters to grapple with. That’s why it’s only just hitting screens now, even though Schwartz has been working on it since 2005.
“When the book came out, it was well-received but it wasn’t ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ sensation he’d later be — John Green was not yet a household name,” says Schwartz, referencing Green’s best known work (the 2014 movie adaptation reaped $307 million at the box office).
“[‘Alaska’] bounced around various studios as a feature film before it became an eight-episode series. It was probably not ever really a studio movie,” he says. “It wasn’t particularly high-concept [since] it dealt with weighty themes and had a mystery at its core that intentionally could never be solved.
“It was a tricky adaptation.”
Schwartz also has “Runaways” on his plate at Hulu and “Nancy Drew” and “Dynasty” at The CW. Since he’s helmed so many teen shows through the past two decades (“The OC” ran from 2003-2007), he says he’s seen the cultural attitudes around them shift.
“Things have evolved in terms of what you’re allowed to portray,” he says. “We had a storyline on ‘The O.C.’ where Marissa [Mischa Barton] was exploring her sexuality with Olivia Wilde’s character, and it was controversial. Some people at the network were uncomfortable with it. We had to accelerate the storytelling in a way that we hadn’t planned. Now, you’re able to tell stories that may have been off-limits before, or under the heading of ‘a very special episode’ in ways that now feel like they don’t need to be singled out.”
Next up for Schwartz is HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” reboot, slated for a 2020 debut.
“There will be an all-new cast,” he says. “We reached out to all of the [old cast] before the show was announced. Obviously, they played those characters for six years, so some might feel like they’re good. But we loved working with all of them and if they want to come back, we would be super-excited about that.”