When Lauren Conrad left The Hills in the middle of Season 5, MTV considered pulling the plug.
"We contemplated it," executive producer Liz Gately tells TVGuide.com. "But we felt we were midway with the Audrina-Justin Bobby story. And there was still a lot of Heidi and Spencer drama -- they had just gotten married -- and the relationships that were in flux between Holly and Spencer and Darlene because of that. We decided to keep going." (Credit Gately and the network, at least, for scuttling plans for a Speidi-centered spinoff.)
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To replace Lauren, producers recruited someone they thought could out-controversy Speidi, hiring Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County vixen Kristin to star. The show's slogan for her entrance: The Bitch is Back.
The girl next door was gone, and the mean girl had come to claim her throne. For some, the transition failed. Fewer than 2 million viewers watched The Hills' most recent episode, compared with the average 3 million who watched Lauren's final season.
With tonight's series finale (10/9c) the friends and the frenemies, the backstabbing and heartache (real or fake) — it all comes to an end. Throw in time spent for Laguna Beach and viewers have been watching Lauren — and later, just her associates — for almost six years. And from her aborted trip to Paris to Kristin's "Nothing you see on TV is real" real relationship with Brody, it's been both thrilling and trying.
But the casualties are many. What is left in the show's wake? Gately, Audrina Patridge, the only cast member from the original Hills foursome to remain standing, and Lo Bosworth, who has been at Lauren's side since the high school days weigh in:
Speidi. It's difficult to imagine people more adversely affected by reality TV fame than Heidi and Spencer. Their relationship began as a hiccup for Lauren --Spencer's made-up allegations that a sex tape starring Lauren and former flame Jason existed — and went on to feed the show and gossipmongers for years. As the show winds to a close, Heidi recently landed the cover of People with the story of her numerous cosmetic surgeries; the fumes of desperation were palpable. Spencer seemed to have lost his mind completely on NBC's I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here. And just a few months ago, the couple claimed to have split — whether it's legit is anyone's guess, but Heidi and pal Jennifer Bunney have already started hawking a reality show about living it up as single ladies. The couple was last seen on The Hills in the May 18 episode, and it was reported that they had essentially been fired before the season's end.
Neither Audrina nor Lo claim to have real personal relationships with the couple. Audrina says she hasn't spoken to them in months. "I never really think of them, and I could care less, to be honest," she says. "The have their own little world that no one knows about."
Lo says their days of staying in the headlines are probably numbered. "It's oversaturation. I think there was a perceptible change in how the people writing about them, the media, felt. I think people just got fed up with the joke."
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The friendships. Sort of. Lo says she and Lauren are still tight, and she and Stephanie have become bona fide besties. But Audrina can't wait to lose the gang. Asked if the friendships she made on the show will last now that it's over, she said, "Uhhh, honestly? No. When we're not filming we don't really see each other ... And with the show I kept my guard up. I have trust issues. I have a few good friends outside that I confide in and my family and that's it." She hadn't seen Lauren in a year before they reunited at the recent Hills wrap party.
The Tao of Justin Bobby. From "Whatever it is, it is, whatever it will be, it will be" to "We can either kick rocks and be acquaintances ... or let truth and time tell all" ... The ladies are going to miss him.
Finally, honesty! "We played versions of ourselves, and that I am thrilled to leave behind," Lo says. She has the last to be embarrassed about, ever the concerned friend. And guess what else? Even though she was promoted to series regular, she doesn't think The Hills are so hot anymore either. "With Kristin, the show was different. The tone, even the editing. It was just a different pace completely. People were turned off by that -- and I completely understand. I was, too! It's hard to be on a show and continue on because it's your job and know that it's not as good as it once was."
Whitney Port in The City. At least for the rest of this season, we'll have a piece of the only Hills spinoff that worked -- Whitney and her gaggle of workplace friends and foes: Olivia, Roxy, Erin. Way better than Bromance.
Impact on youth culture. As Gately put it: "Now every kid thinks they can be famous. We know from MTV research that one in five kids think they'll be famous. That was a year ago. So maybe now it's one in three. The Hills made fame accessible to people just living their lives -- and not just a little bit of fame, cover of US Weekly fame." Just don't whittle yourself away in the name of those 15 minutes. "I think we showed a responsible aspect of [Heidi's] situation by airing the scene with her mom," Gately said. "Darlene she expressed what everyone was thinking. We don't want young girls to think that they need to get plastic surgery to look a certain way."
But hey, Lauren's doing fine! Her clothing line is doing healthy business at Kohl's and she's written two young adult novels that have gone on to be New York Times bestsellers. A movie adaptation of the book series -- about the star of a Hills-style reality show but is not about Lauren herself -- is also being developed.
Chew on that, Speidi.