LOS ANGELES – "The O.C.," the once-hot teenage soap opera that saw its ratings plummet like a delinquent student's grades, has been canceled.
The final episode of the drama will air 9 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 22, FOX TV and Warner Bros. Television Production Inc. said Wednesday.
The finale "will deliver real closure to the series, to the story we began telling four years ago," series creator Josh Schwartz said in a statement. "It will be fun and emotional and I think really satisfying. It is the finale we always planned to do."
Based in the affluent Orange County, Calif., city of Newport Beach, "The O.C." caught fire in its first season, 2003-04, as the top-rated drama among advertiser-favored young adults and with a total audience of nearly 10 million.
The show's story lines revolved around Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie), an outsider thrust into a heady new world of money and sex, and rich high school kids including Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) and Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) and their families.
"The O.C." didn't sustain its momentum, dropping to about 7 million weekly viewers during 2004-05 and then to fewer than 6 million last season. This year, returning in November after FOX wrapped its postseason baseball coverage, "The O.C." has only drawn about 4 million viewers.
Observers have pointed to a variety of possible reasons for the slump, including inconsistent quality, the fickleness of younger viewers and a time-slot change.
The third-season finale's high drama, in which Marissa was killed in a car crash, didn't turn the series around. This year found Ryan confronting the death of his one-time girlfriend and the man who caused it.
Fox ordered 16 episodes for the 2006-07 season and all will have aired when the series concludes in February, a network spokesman said Wednesday.
Others in the show's cast include Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan, Melinda Clarke, Rachel Bilson and Autumn Reeser.
Despite its brief heyday, the show helped establish cast members including Brody, Bilson and Barton as fan and tabloid favorites.
A replacement for the series was not immediately announced by FOX.