Sorry, Duke, but It’s a Really Cool TV Show
A county supervisor suggests renaming John Wayne Airport after the Fox hit ‘The O.C.’
By Kimi Yoshino and Stuart Pfeifer
Times Staff Writers
June 9, 2004
In a case of life imitating art — or is it life imitating art imitating life? — an Orange County supervisor suggested Tuesday that John Wayne Airport be renamed after the hit prime-time soap opera “The O.C.”
The year-old Fox network show lampoons the county as home to self-absorbed teenagers and their rich parents, but it has proved so popular that Orange County boosters have used it to promote tourism.
With a straight face Tuesday, Supervisor Chris Norby suggested that government get in on the act.
How about, he wondered, renaming the airport “The O.C. Airport — John Wayne Field” and installing freeway signs at county lines proclaiming “Welcome to the O.C.”?
“It’s got cachet,” Norby said. “It’s concise.”
And The O.C. supervisors didn’t flinch.
Jim Silva expressed skepticism but said he would approve a study to see if county residents support the idea. Board member Tom Wilson said there was merit in trying to piggyback on the show’s popularity, noting that organizers of the O.C. Marathon have been hoping for a plug on the show.
The discussion came at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, and like a season finale, the idea was left hanging.
One expert says the idea actually makes sense, given the county’s long-standing devotion to entertainment.
“It’s the home of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm,” said Patrick Kiger, co-author of “Poplorica,” a book about pop culture trends.
“And they’ve got a hockey team named after a fictional hockey team in a movie. In a way, maybe this is consistent — the idea that you take something that’s fictional and model real life after it.”
From a practical standpoint, Norby and other county boosters say “The O.C.” has name recognition and is more identifiable than Orange County Airport, John Wayne Airport or SNA, the federal designation for what was once Santa Ana Airport.
It’s also, according to some, a lot hipper than John Wayne, the name bestowed on the airport days after the Western star died in 1979.
One visitor to the airport Tuesday, 17-year-old Cherish Lugo of Downey, described him only as “some guy.”
Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, is all for cashing in on the success of “The O.C.,” regardless of its shortcomings in accurately portraying the county’s ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.
“The television show is gathering audiences all over the world,” Ahlers said. “It is a truly great publicity vehicle. The message that they’re sending may not be of concern to us. What is of interest is that Orange County is portrayed as a cool, hip place and a place with pretty people.”
Roger Faubel, a board member of Arts Orange County, a group that promotes arts in the county, says he supports Norby’s plan and is already working on a logo with the new airport name.
“We’re going to explore that branding and see if it resonates,” Faubel said. “It’s an idea. If it gets legs, great.”
Would there be a copyright issue? The show’s creator suggested otherwise.
“It was always our goal to rename the county,” said executive producer Josh Schwartz. “And the airport seems like a perfectly good place to start.”
Still, even die-hard fans of the teen drama couldn’t help but roll their eyes at the mention of naming the airport after a television show that presents a less-than-admirable portrait of the county.
“Lame-o,” said Christine Eckstaedt, 21, of Orange, who hasn’t missed an episode.
“Definitely a no-go,” her 16-year-old brother, David, agreed while the two were at the airport Tuesday.
John Wayne’s family couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, but impersonator Ermal Williamson, president of the Duke’s Hollywood Cowboys fan club, said the county shouldn’t tinker with a good thing.
“Leave it like it is,” Williamson said. “We made John Wayne an icon. We made him a hero. Just about every day, there’s a John Wayne movie on. That’s how much staying power he has.”
Norby was quick to note that he didn’t intend to dump the Duke, just “reclaim” the county name.
“The TV show,” he reasoned, “is named after us.”