“One Tree Hill” was an extremely popular show that aired from 2003 to 2012. It was a teen drama that explored a very fashionable genre of the time — one that was dramatic, sexualized and sometimes ridiculous, yet always determinedly heartfelt, often centering around a friend group of “regular” high school students as they came of age. “One Tree Hill” had a very long and successful run and catapulted many young actors into stardom. However, the show was not without its drawbacks and trauma.
In 2017, lead actress Hilarie Burton Morgan detailed the abuse she and other women experienced on set at the hands of show creator Mark Schwahn. In addition, many other female writers and actresses echoed the accusations of harassment. Together, 18 women penned and signed a letter to Variety Magazine detailing the abuse. In the spring of 2021, the three lead actresses of the show (Sophia Bush, Bethany Joy Lenz and Burton Morgan) started a podcast on iHeartMedia called “Drama Queens,” where they rewatch the show together for the podcast and then record a corresponding discussion. Then, the recording is synthesized into a weekly episode, sometimes with other guests from the show.
While many television shows have started making “rewatch podcasts,” “Drama Queens” stands out. After enduring insufferable trauma, the women have reclaimed “One Tree Hill” for themselves and affirmed their true friendship with each other. Many of the women detailed how the toxic environment of the show pitted women against each other, inhibiting many potential relationships.
In the podcast, the women include their voices, have complete control and share personal anecdotes that connect the audience to the actresses and their characters in a positive, intimate way — which all allows them to reclaim their art, which felt like an unsafe space for them for many years. The loving environment fosters a sort of sisterhood, and now that the women are close friends, they possess a chemistry that makes the podcast endearing.
In September, the hosts of “Drama Queens” held a live virtual event of their podcast, in which they answered questions, made cocktails and had on several guests. Some visitors included Gavin DeGraw, who sang the “One Tree Hill” theme song, and Danneel Ackles, who also starred on the show for several years. Additionally, the proceeds from the ticket sales to the virtual event went to the charity Kind Campaign, which works in schools to combat bullying and promote healthy friendships. It is fascinating and inspiring to watch these women discuss the art they helped create through this personal and positive lens while also dissecting each episode together every week.
Lenz, Bush and Burton Morgan examine why “One Tree Hill” remains so memorable — this time, as audience members. They commented many times how “Drama Queens” marks their first time watching “One Tree Hill” in its entirety. The podcast event was about an hour and a half, while the podcast episodes average roughly an hour each. The women and guests enjoy discussing why the show garnered such love worldwide and what makes these characters memorable and lovable; what once caused so many traumatic memories now becomes a source of joy and appreciation.
Bush explained the premise in The New York Times: “What if the O.G. girls got together and reclaimed our show, and by doing that together, shifted a power dynamic and took our power back and invited all of our friends and co-stars to come along with us as we do this?” The podcast gives the women the chance to heal together and rediscover their show as fans themselves while rebuilding the friendships taken away from them at the time.
Bush asserted that even as “One Tree Hill” gained popularity during the early 2000s, she and her female co-stars had to fight with creators to provide their characters with depth and growth instead of simply making them “accessories for the boys.” On “Drama Queens,” Bush, Burton Morgan and Lenz frequently discuss how they felt they were in vicious competition against each other and how the actresses, launched into the pressures of young stardom, were constantly told that somebody could easily take their place.
“The memo I got over and over again was how replaceable I was,” Ms. Burton Morgan said, tearing up. “What has been really humbling is that after getting that message, to have this fan base show up for a podcast 18 years later and tell you that you’re not replaceable is really nice.”
Lenz speaks of the environment that pitted the women against each other: “I felt bullied,” Lenz said. “I felt like I couldn’t trust anybody because the power dynamic on the show was constantly telling me and, from what I understand from Hilarie and Sophia, telling them as well, ‘Nobody likes you, nobody trusts you.’” Lenz emphasized how healing and building those friendships have meant the world to her, and today she is delighted to have a healthy example to set for her daughter.
Many people returned to watching comfort shows throughout the pandemic, and “One Tree Hill” remains that for many. Additionally, the show has reached a new audience through streaming services, and many young adults and teenagers have become recent fans. “Drama Queens” arrived at a perfect time, and it is heartwarming to watch the women cherish each other while they watch their characters find themselves.
Every audience member can be inspired by the bravery and strength of Bush, Lenz and Burton Morgan as creators, women, storytellers and allies. The women are well into rewatching Season 2 of “One Tree Hill,” and fans eagerly await every Sunday for the new episode of “Drama Queens” to discuss the series, but more so, the friendship.