At a restaurant in Wilmington, N.C., one cold December night, two television producers bickered.

''There's no way we're not,'' Joe Davola said.

''Don't hex us,'' Mark Schwahn said.

''I'm the most close-to-the-vest guy in the world,'' Mr. Davola countered. ''And there's no way we're not getting renewed.''

Mr. Schwahn is the creator of the WB network's teenage soap opera ''One Tree Hill,'' and Mr. Davola is one of the show's executive producers. ''One Tree Hill'' is filmed in Wilmington, and they had come from Los Angeles to visit before the cast and crew took a holiday break. Mr. Schwahn and Mr. Davola spoke with a reporter while celebrating the conclusion of a successful fall run for their show, now in its second year.

The previous fall was a different story. The series had a disastrous debut: only 2.5 million viewers watched its first episode. But in its second season, ''One Tree Hill'' has emerged as one of WB's hits, particularly among the young demographics the network courts. ''Of all the shows that they've launched in the last two years, this one has the most traction,'' said Stacey Lynn Koerner, an executive vice president at Initiative, a media planning agency. ''It does have an audience it's connecting with -- a loyal audience that comes back week in and week out.''

Among women 12 to 34 -- WB's target audience -- ''One Tree Hill'' wins its time slot on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. And in all of prime-time television, it is the No. 1 show among teenage girls, a group that one might liken to artists moving to a bad neighborhood: if they're doing it, more viewers will do so soon. Tonight the show returns from a two-month hiatus, and a DVD of the first season's episodes, as well as a soundtrack from the show, are to be released today.

''One Tree Hill'' centers around Lucas (Chad Michael Murray), who, at the beginning of Season 1, was a pensive loner from Tree Hill, N.C., recruited to play on the high school's basketball team with Nathan (James Lafferty), the bratty, resentful half-brother he had never known. At every turn, Lucas was thwarted by Nathan and the father (Paul Johansson) who abandoned him but was comforted by his mother (Moira Kelly), several girlfriends and his only male role model, Uncle Keith (Craig Sheffer). By the time the two brothers became friends at the end of the first season, the large ensemble had moped its way through basketball games, drinking escapades and love triangles.

According to David Janollari, entertainment president at the WB network, last June, the show's evolution into a sophomore success stems partly from the fact that ''One Tree Hill'' has shifted its focus from a male-driven sports plot to expand the stories of its girls. ''This year, I think they had time to step back and learn from audience response,'' Mr. Janollari said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. ''Mark has really tailored the show toward the core audience.''

Mr. Schwahn agrees: ''Girls watch the show in large numbers. Last year, the girls were sort of appendages to the boys.''

Less time on the basketball court affords ''One Tree Hill'' more time for plots fueled by sex and drugs: the girls learned to pole dance at a strip club, several characters have had lesbian flirtations and Peyton (Hilarie Burton) tried cocaine.

''Sex sells,'' Mr. Davola said at the North Carolina restaurant.

''Skin to win,'' Mr. Schwahn said.

On another network, ''One Tree Hill'' would not have been given the time to find its audience. Even on WB, a network known for sticking with shows, the series seemed a sure bet for early cancellation. It had been scheduled to be a midseason replacement for the winter of 2004 but was rushed into production when another WB show failed to gel and had to be scrapped.

''The network asked us for eight in a row,'' Mr. Davola said in the heavy Brooklyn accent that inspired Larry David to create a ''Seinfeld'' character, ''Crazy Joe Davola,'' named for him. ''It wasn't really physically possible.''

Mr. Schwahn, a boyish-looking 38-year-old from Pontiac, Ill., who moved to Los Angeles in 1990 to play in a band, remembered it as a difficult experience. ''Had it been my second show, I would have said, 'This is crazy, I'm going home to my big house,''' he said. ''But there was no big house.''

Until WB bought ''One Tree Hill,'' Mr. Schwahn had worked as a features writer on studio films like the high school S.A.T. caper ''The Perfect Score.'' (He still writes movies and was co-writer of ''Coach Carter,'' now in theaters.) ''One Tree Hill'' was originally a screenplay Mr. Schwahn had written about a high school basketball team.

The scramble to assemble the first eight episodes became a group project for Mr. Schwahn and the producers, who were receiving daily notes from the network. ''Every day we went to the editing room, I expected the doors to be padlocked and the show to be canceled,'' said Brian Robbins, an executive producer, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. But then the show's numbers started to improve.

''They'd had this enormous, long-lasting success with 'Dawson's Creek,''' said Mike Tollin, another executive producer of the show, referring to an earlier WB series. ''Dawson's Creek'' had also been filmed in Wilmington, and it, too, featured stories about broody, extremely good-looking adolescents, making ''One Tree Hill'' familiar territory for WB's marketing team. ''They knew what buttons to push,'' Mr. Tollin said.

Last January, the network began a splashy promotional campaign of bus ads and billboards. The posters showed the cast languorously lying together in a big, libidinal clump -- and galvanized the show as a WB-style hit. ''During the course of the first season, the numbers became alarmingly encouraging,'' said Peter Roth, the president of Warner Brothers Television Production, speaking about why the show's incremental growth swayed the network to renew it. Mr. Janollari added, ''The results are paying off huge this season for us.'' Yet it's quite possible that many viewers have not heard of ''One Tree Hill.''

''We have a show that's under the radar,'' said Chad Michael Murray, its 23-year-old star, in an interview on the show's set. That love is in no small part related to the popularity of Mr. Murray, a lanky, squinty-eyed blond, whose teen-idol standing was established on other WB shows -- ''Gilmore Girls'' and ''Dawson's Creek'' -- and his film roles opposite Lindsay Lohan (in ''Freaky Friday'') and Hilary Duff (in ''A Cinderella Story''). Mr. Murray picked the part of the rebellious but sensitive Lucas on ''One Tree Hill'' over the rebellious but sensitive Ryan on ''The O.C,'' which he was being considered for. ''Don't want to go into that,'' said Mr. Murray, when asked why he made that choice. ''This one felt like home to me.''

Comparing the two adolescent melodramas, ''One Tree Hill'' is certainly homier than ''The O.C.'' Where the plot of the more popular ''O.C.'' is over-the-top, and its tone is snarkily self-conscious, ''One Tree Hill'' is emotional and earnest. ''It doesn't talk down to the audience,'' Mr. Janollari said. ''The sound of the dialogue is authentic.''

Hilarie Burton, 22, who plays Peyton, a moody cheerleader and artist, said: ''We try not to be preachy. You don't want to isolate or judge your audience.''

Sophia Bush, also 22, the show's troublemaker, Brooke, also believes in the nonjudgmental approach. About some scripts she gets, Ms. Bush said ''I'm sitting here thinking to myself, 'There is no way I can do this and go to sleep at night feeling like a good person.''' ''But the more you look at our show, you realize we're not promoting anything either way.''

So is the hormonally infused ''One Tree Hill'' safe for a third season, as Mr. Davola promised Mr. Schwahn it would be?

''It's so safe,'' said Mr. Janollari, the man who decides these things for WB. ''And if it continues to grow the way it's been growing, which we're determined to make sure happens, it will be an even huger hit in years to come.''

Photos: Hillarie Burton and Bryan Greenberg on the WB's ''One Tree Hill.'' (Photo by Fred Norris/WB)(pg. E1); The sultry teenagers of the WB's ''One Tree Hill,'' from left: Sophia Bush, Chad Michael Murray, Hillarie Burton, James Lafferty and Bethany Joy Lenz. (Photo by Timothy White/WB)(pg. E7)