A Less Sweet 16 for 'The O.C.'

TelevisionEntertainmentTelevision IndustryThe O.C. (tv program)Fox Broadcasting CompanyDeathRachel Bilson

"The O.C." won't start its fourth season until well after the rest of FOX's fall schedule hits the air, and as things stand now, it won't be around for as long either.

The network confirmed Wednesday that it's ordered only 16 episodes of the show for the 2006-07 season, as first reported by Variety. A typical full-season order for a series is 22 episodes.

Typical for most shows, that is. Through its first three seasons, "The O.C." never shot fewer than 24 episodes; last year the count was 25.

A FOX spokesperson says that while the current order for "The O.C." is 16 episodes, there's a chance the network could add more installments if it chooses. Even with a late start -- the show is scheduled to premiere Nov. 2 -- 16 episodes would mean either an early end to the season or a sizable break somewhere at midseason.

"The O.C." will be making some fairly significant on-screen changes in the coming season. Mischa Barton has left the show following the death of her character, Marissa Cooper, in last season's finale. Her friends (Ben McKenzie, Adam Brody, Rachel Bilson) are headed off to college, and Marissa's little sister Caitlin (Willa Holland) is moving back in with mom Julie (Melinda Clarke).

The series will also be facing a more competitive landscape in its 9 p.m. Thursday timeslot. It will have to face two of the most popular dramas on TV, CBS' "CSI" and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," along with NBC's popular game show "Deal or No Deal."

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