Austin Nichols as Julian and Sophia Bush as Brooke in...

Austin Nichols as Julian and Sophia Bush as Brooke in final episode of "One Tree Hill." Credit: The CW

About to be in television's rearview mirror: the town of Tree Hill, N.C.

For proof of what compelling characters, smart writing and solid acting can do, witness the staying power of "One Tree Hill" over nine seasons. Without a "name" cast -- though Moira Kelly and Craig Sheffer had some movie fame, and Barry Corbin was known from the series "Northern Exposure" -- the show premiered quietly on a network that no longer exists (The WB) and ultimately would last almost a decade . . . thanks largely to the devoted fan base it built.

"One Tree Hill" ends its run Wednesday at 8 p.m. on The CW/11 with a two-hour event -- a retrospective followed by the actual final episode -- that's likely to be as emotional for its loyal audience as it was for its cast and crew when filming wrapped late last year. The fact that production finished months ago is allowing for a relatively quick DVD release of the entire final season, set for April 10.

"It's hard to see photos from the set and think, 'I'm never going to be in a room with all the same people again,' " says actress Bethany Joy Galeotti, who was Bethany Joy Lenz when she began her series-spanning role as young wife, mother and sometimes music star Haley James Scott. "I'm sure I'll go back to Wilmington the North Carolina city where the show was made] and work with some of those guys again, but not in that particular combination."

Foremost among the makers of "One Tree Hill" has been creator and executive producer Mark Schwahn, who says, "Nine years was more than we expected, but it's been a wonderful run for us. Maybe two of the nine seasons, we felt fairly secure we were coming back; the other years, when we did cliffhangers, I just felt instinctually that we were coming back, and we took that risk."

For Haley, much of the final round of "One Tree Hill" meant fretting about her missing husband, Nathan (James Lafferty), kidnapped after an overseas trip. Besides playing out that story line, Galeotti has tested herself in other ways through the show, directing three episodes and also performing in an actual concert tour inspired by the series.

"I am eternally grateful to Mark and Joe for sending us out on that," she says. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something I actually thought I wanted to pursue at one point. And I realized, 'I really don't like being on the road!' It fulfilled whatever I needed to fulfill, then I didn't need it anymore."

Likening himself to the "One Tree Hill" character Mouth (played by Lee Norris), Schwahn put much of his own background into the series. He deems reaching the finale "bittersweet, but I always had a feel for the tone of the ending. I didn't know specifically what it would be until we got into the season and started breaking stories; those inform where you're going to go, and I think where we've ended up is really satisfying and wonderful."

 

Flops from WB's class of '03

"One Tree Hill" debuted on Sept. 23, 2003 and would last nine seasons. Alas, the five other freshman shows (how many do you remember?) premiering that season on the old WB network wouldn't be as lucky.

Steve Harvey's Big Time -- The comedian hosted this comedy-variety show, which lasted two seasons.

Run of the House -- Joey Lawrence starred in this sitcom about three older siblings taking care of their younger sister. It was canceled in February 2004.

All About the Andersons -- Comedian Anthony Anderson played a struggling actor who moved with his young son back to this parents' home. Lasted one season.

Like Family -- Holly Robinson Peete and Kevin Michael Richardson starred in this domestic comedy. Lasted one season.

Tarzan -- Male model Travis Fimmel starred as the latest incarnation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs character. Canceled after eight episodes.

-- Andy Ddelstein

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