One Tree Hill Boss Touts Series Finale as 'Thank You' Note to Fans, Promises a 'Fulfilling' Ending

How does a show like The CW’s One Tree Hill — which over nine seasons has given us psycho stalkers, heart-eating dogs, coming-of-age teens (and then adults!), car crashes and more weddings, babies, deaths and hook-ups than we can possibly count — plan to wrap things up in tonight’s two-hour series finale event (airing at 8/7c)?

“Quietly,” shares showrunner Mark Schwahn.

Exclusive One Tree Hill Finale Video: Brooke and Haley Leave Their Mark

It seems that after nearly a decade of jaw-dropping and always-emotional storytelling, Tree Hill‘s creator and his trusty team have taken the drama down a notch (or 10) for a series-ender that, if all goes as planned, will play as “a thank you note” to fans.

Here, Schwahn further discusses with TVLine his toned-down approach to the Tree Hill finale — which will pepper in nostalgia-filled interviews with the cast — as well as what to expect from the sweet swan song.

TVLINE | You recently described the series finale as a “love letter to fans.” Can you elaborate a bit on that?
If you’re a fan of the show and you’ve been inside of it for a long time — as you have, Meg — there are some nice Easter eggs in the finale. I designed it that way for people who really care about the show, and I took great pains to assure it was a fulfilling hour for them. The finale has some great stuff in it — some big storylines, some surprises — but it also isn’t afraid to be quiet because it knows that [it can be] and that the fans will care about it. Some moments are a wink to things that have happened in the past. There’s great music in it and the ensemble is there a lot, and those are the things I wanted to leave with the fans for the last hour. That’s why I called it a love letter. I probably should have called it a “thank you note” to fans, really. [Laughs] And I think the cast and the crew would agree. I think they all enjoyed having the bulk of the cast on set. There are a couple moments where there’s not even dialogue; it’s just these quiet sequences and they are so nice. It’s a nice time to be reflective. Long answer, short: For the fans who have been so loyal over the years and have fought for the show, it should be [a finale] that they enjoy. It might be bittersweet, it might be melancholy, but it should be something that they appreciate.

TVLINE | After an incredibly intense final season, it seems everything has fallen into place for our core characters. Is the plan to carry that good feeling through the end of the show?
That was certainly the design this season. I didn’t want to end the series with, say, Dan’s death. We had talked about it, and while I think Dan is so relevant and it’s odd to have a few episodes without him, life does goes on. That’s such a big, significant event that I didn’t want to leave the series after nine years with an incident of grief like that. Tonally, I knew exactly how I wanted to end it — though the situations have changed over the years because we never could put a number on when we were going to end. If you go back and look at our finales, you’ll see that consistency in tone.

TVLINE | Definitely — last season in particular, with the final shot being Jamie, hood over head, walking across the bridge with a basketball. That would have been a perfect ending, too.
Oh, yeah. You could even go back to when Lucas and Peyton left and drove off with the baby [in Season 6], and then in that same episode Brooke went to L.A. to tell Julian she loved him. Or the Utah episode [in Season 7] with the group sledding and climbing the hill together…. You see a consistency in tone. It doesn’t mean there aren’t some great surprises and some challenges in the finale, but the feeling of inclusion with the audience is appropriate for a series finale after nine seasons.

TVLINE | One Tree Hill has utilized its fair share of time jumps over the past few seasons. Should we expect to see more flash-forwards in the finale?
I’ll say this: Once you see the structure of the hour, you’ll understand that it’s a very different kind of episode. It’s such a gift to have nine years of storytelling to draw on, and it’s nice to see the trajectory of a character — especially for a show that was just about character. I remember the quote from Season 1, the one about ravens who would guide travelers to their destination, and that’s what I always thought the show was; these people are just travelers and they’re going to have bumps along the way, and hopefully they’re going to get where they’re going. So, that’s a long-winded way of saying that fans will get to see glimpses of the characters and moments of who they used to be, who they are now and maybe even who they might be. [Laughs]

TVLINE | Is it safe to assume we’ll see some sort of wedding for Clay and Quinn?
The idea of it. [Laughs] I wouldn’t have introduced [the idea of a wedding] and then left it hanging, so that storyline is at the center of their journey. We definitely address it and present a scenario to the audience. Ultimately, they’ll have to decide for themselves whether it was a satisfying one. I will tell you that we all enjoyed it.

TVLINE | And just to put at ease the minds of any worrywarts and naysayers out there, James Lafferty will be featured in the finale?
Of course. You know, everyone knows “the business of show” now… but James loves the show and there wasn’t a moment when he wasn’t going to be in the finale. He’s one of my closest friends and he was always, always going to be there.

TVLINE | I also feel I might be doing the final episodes of the show a disservice if I didn’t ask about their parallels with Dawson’s Creek’s series finale. Clearly, you’re aware of the similarities, given Brooke’s recent line about “the Creek,” but is this all just one big homage to One Tree Hill‘s WB predecessor?
I will say that it originated with Julian’s storyline. It really started with the idea that Julian is in his 20s, which is awfully early to settle, so we talked in the writer’s room about what he loves to do and what he would be passionate about, and the answer is [An Unkindness of Ravens]. So then of course we all thought of Dawson’s Creek, which obviously is this wonderful spectacle that exists in Wilmington [where we film] — I mean, we showed up and made our pilot when they did their finale. But we didn’t want to run away from that storyline just because of Dawson’s. It’s been almost 10 years [since their finale], so our finale is kind of commemorative. Obviously, we didn’t want to be redundant, but at the same time, it’s kind of neat. Above and beyond that, we just wanted to do what that character would love to do. We did put that [Creek] line in because we wanted to acknowledge it… But that storyline was more about Julian and what he’s passionate about than it was a nod to Dawson’s.

TVLINE | So, this is it. The last time you and I will chat about One Tree Hill, and the last time we’ll all check in with these beloved “friends.”
I like the idea that the show is still there, we’re just not visiting every week. Tree Hill is still there and the characters are still doing what they do; we just don’t have the good fortune of being able to see them every week.

Be sure to head back to TVLine at 10 pm EST for our One Tree Hill finale recaplet and Mark Schwahn’s parting thoughts to the fans.