In the upcoming season of “One Tree Hill,” Fayetteville fans will recognize a piece of their city on the CW series.
The sixth season premieres tonight. Producers shot the fifth episode of the new season — titled “You dug your own grave, now lay in it” — at the Crown Coliseum on Aug. 13. The episode, which is scheduled to air Sept. 29, centers around the character of Nathan Scott and his struggle to reclaim his basketball career.
Fans will remember that Nathan (played by James Lafferty) was nearly paralyzed in a fight in season five. His return to basketball will be a big part of the new season.
The show, which is filmed in Wilmington, is set in fictional Tree Hill, a small North Carolina town. The drama focuses on the lives of five characters, including actor Chad Michael Murray, who is central to the show’s season finale cliffhanger. At the end of last season, his character, Lucas, asked one of the lead female characters to marry him in Las Vegas. Who he proposed to will be answered this season.
The Observer was given access to the set during the show’s short stint in Fayetteville and saw how producers transformed the Crown arena into a TV-ready basketball court. The changes were subtle, but the Hollywood mystique hung in the air.
We spoke with Lafferty and the show’s executive producer Greg Prange about the show — and what little they could reveal about the new season. The following are excerpts.
Observer: How does filming in Wilmington as opposed to Los Angeles shape the show?
Prange: You can’t really create North Carolina in Los Angeles. It’s a very odd reality.
We’ve always found that the river and the water and the beaches — all those things are characters in our show as much as the characters are.
Observer: What should fans expect for next season?
Prange: I can’t give any of that away. I never do that, because they would kill me if I did.
They should expect a pretty good roller-coaster ride. We got a lot of stuff happening. I think it’s probably one of the best openings of the season we’ve had.
Observer: How did jumping the story four years last year help the show creatively?
Prange: There was a lot of nervousness by the studio and network in the process of doing that, but we felt our show was so advanced in a strange way. Our kids, when they were in high school, were already getting married. They were already having babies, so it’s like when you go to college you’re not going to be doing anything different. I think we were successful in doing it. I think the audience responded to it, and we’re back for season six.
Observer: To what do you attribute the show’s longevity?
Prange: Mark Schwahn created the show. He guides our ship completely. We have good stories with a lot of heart, and we have an extraordinarily talented cast. If the audience wants to come back and see the characters because they are invested in the stories, then you’re doing your job.
Observer: Music has always been a big part of the show. Will there be another musical act you hope to launch? (Last year, singer Kate Voegele saw a jump in sales after playing a recurring character on the show.)
Prange: It’s too soon right now. We haven’t really done that too much, though we have a pretty good plan for things we want to accomplish. I can’t really talk about it now because it hasn’t happened, and I’d hate to jinx it.
James Lafferty has played Nathan Scott since the show debuted in September 2003. His character is balancing family life with a wife and young son and a comeback to basketball.
Observer: Do you think your high school basketball background helped you get the part on the series?
Lafferty: Somewhat. If I hadn’t played basketball, it probably would have been a bit harder for me to convince the producers that I was right for the role.
I went through the entire audition process. Then the last actual test was a basketball test and I passed that pretty well.
Observer: Is that really you dunking on the show?
Lafferty: Yeah, that’s me. I requested not to have a double used. I can generally do most of things that they want me to.
Observer: What can fans expect of your character in the new season?
Lafferty: A Nathan with a renewed sense of purpose and a guy that is really there for his family and sort of on a mission to get his life back to where he once thought it would be.
Observer: What other projects are you working on?
Lafferty: I did a film — a sequel to “Donnie Darko.” I don’t actually know what it’s going to be titled right now. It’s in the post-production process, and we’ll see what happens with that.
Observer: What have you enjoyed most about being part of “One Tree Hill”?
Lafferty: Just the experiences. I started the show when I was pretty young — at 17. I’m 23 now, so just the growth process and learning about my craft and learning about industry, and also making friends along the way. It’s been an amazing experience.
Observer: What’s it like working on a show that’s lasted six seasons?
Lafferty: It’s great. Not a lot of television shows make it that far. Not a lot of television shows shoot 100-plus episodes. It’s really special to look back on that and see what an accomplishment it’s been for everybody involved.
Observer: Why do think the show has endured?
Lafferty: I don’t think you can really peg any one thing, but I think one thing that’s been instrumental in keeping us on the air and keeping us relevant is how in touch we are with our fan base and how well we sort of cater to their needs.
We have all been really good about reaching out to the fans and trying to do signings and trying to do contests — really making it interactive. I think that’s helped us hold on to our core fan base and hopefully recruit some new fans.