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Last season’s One Tree Hill finale sent long star-crossed Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Peyton (Hilarie Burton) off into the sunset after finally getting hitched…and this summer we found out they wouldn’t be coming back. Ever. Meanwhile, Brooke (Sophia Bush) seemed to finally find true love with Julian (Austin Nichols) and Nathan (James Lafferty) made the NBA. Which left us wondering: Where the heck do things go from here? Creator-exec producer Mark Schwahn gave us a preview of the new season, which starts Sept. 14 on The CW. (Hint: It involves another jump forward in time. And lots of hot people.)

Last season’s finale felt like a series-ender. Did you write it that way, thinking that it might be the end for the show?

I knew that some of the cast deals would be up in the air by the time we finished the season. In a way I felt like it wasn’t fair to the fans to write a bunch of cliffhangers. I also felt like it wouldn’t be fair to the actors: Like, if you don’t take the deal, you’ll be under the bus.

And now you’re jumping ahead in time again for the new season?

Mostly because Jackson Brundage [who plays Haley and Nathan’s son, Jamie] is getting older. He’s playing 5 ½. He’s going to be 9 soon. The kid’s going to have a mustache soon and he’ll be playing 6. The best way to deal with it is to let some time pass and not pick the show up in that moment. We’re going to go 14 months. In a year, things change. Basically we’re going to pick it up on Jamie’s 7th birthday. It allows us to put everyone together to meet the new characters. Some of the characters have been in the world for a year, and other new characters are showing up on that day.

Will you explain the absence of Lucas (Murray) and Peyton (Burton) on the show?

I know there are a lot of fans who are going to watch to see how we explain Peyton and Lucas’ absence. They’re gone, and there’s a gift from them for Jamie. They’re traveling, they’re spending time with [Lucas’ mom] Karen and [her husband] Andy, they’re raising their child, he’s working on his book. They’re living their lives. I sort of buy that they’re out living their lives. I’ve been very upfront with the studio and network in saying, Look, the audience may not accept a new version of the show. But we’ve reinvented it a few times before. I don’t want to be dismissive of Chad and Hilarie. But when you see the first couple of episodes [in the new season], you’re either in for this new show or not. So every week, to talk about Lucas and Peyton actually feels like it hurts us more than it helps us. Obviously, they were a huge part of One Tree Hill. But you move forward.

So what’s coming this season? Will Brooke get to keep her happy ending?

I was concerned that because Julian and Brooke had such a great moment in the finale, the audience could feel like we missed all the good stuff [by jumping ahead]. But he’s been consistently working in L.A. and she’s been consistently working in Tree Hill. The storyline in the first episode is: Is this the time when their relationship’s going to actually start in a real way?

What’s up with the new characters?

We have some ridiculously beautiful new people. Robert Buckley plays Clayton, Nathan’s sports agent. He’s been in their lives for the last year. Clay is very much the keeper of Nathan’s livelihood, but he’s also a very close friend. It’s always interesting when you mix business and friendship. He’s cocky and a bit of a womanizer and good at what he does. But he also cares immensely about that family. Nathan being in the NBA, he’s in the spotlight in a way he’s never been before. And Clay’s his agent and friend and a bit of a party boy. Nathan’s married and a good family man, but he likes hanging out with Clay. That may pose problems down the line.

Then there’s Quinn, played by Shantel VanSanten. She’s Haley’s older sister by a couple years. She’s a photographer. She comes to visit for the birthday party. She’s married. She was always successful. But as we know, sometimes people change. And Quinn shows up at a crossroads in her life.

Jana Kramer is going to play Alex. She’s the new face of Clothes Over Bros. She’s an actress, not a model. She’s decided maybe she’ll make some money from Brooke and do some modeling. She’s going to push buttons. She doesn’t censor herself. She’s wily enough to know that she’s sexy and can be really powerful being sexy. But sometimes the lights are not on with Alex.

You always have at least one trademark off-the-wall plotline each season. Please tell us this will continue.

Yes. Dan Scott is still alive. And miraculously, he has never been in better health. Not only that, he has become a millionaire by telling a story of redemption. He has his own talk show. He’s basically Dr. Phil-meets-Tony Robbins. The question is: Is he duping us all again or has he really changed his ways? The entire season starts on this clock. The seconds are ticking off. It’s Dan’s voiceover: “I was on the brink of death. I was given days to live. I was broken.” He looks into the camera and smiles and says, “That was 14 months ago.” His talk show is called Scott-Free Redemption. The great part is we will go back and see moments along the way. We’ll see how Nathan and his world feels about this. It’s really fun. It’s the Nanny Carrie story, it’s the crazy stalker story. If you want a guilty pleasure, there you go.

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