Ten years ago, The Real Housewives had conquered exactly zero cities, "Speidi" had yet to enter the pop culture lexicon, and Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari were just two high school students who happened to totally be crushing on the same guy (Ste-PHEN Colletti, FTW). And then Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County happened.
Debuting Sept. 28, 2004, on MTV, the reality show's scripted feel, sun-soaked cinematography and beautiful stars made the show a bona fide hit that spawned a whole new slew of docu-series and made the camera-friendly cast members, particularly its feuding leading ladies, into celebrities. Ten years later, both are still household names and MTV continues to air Laguna Beach reruns every summer.
"There are millions and millions of girls that grew up in high school during that time and they think of [Lauren] as a friend," series creator Liz Gateley tells TVGuide.com. "I think it was very powerful because the audience understood that this was a coming-of-age story and a whole generation of girls identified with all the struggles Lauren went through."
To celebrate the show's 10th anniversary, Gateley shared what fans didn't see, whether a reunion is in the works and more.
Kristin almost missed her chance. When casting for the series over President's Day weekend of 2004, Kristin was MIA. "She had gone skiing with her parents. So there was this girl that everyone was buzzing about that was the hot bad girl," Gateley says. "We were waiting and waiting and waiting, like, who could this girl possibly be, and she showed up and she was everything and more than we hoped." Gately instantly knew the show's hook. "What I knew we had, which was special, was a good girl and a very cute boy and a bad girl who were all in a love triangle, and that we knew was the center of the show," she says.
The city of Laguna Beach put a big wrench in producers' plans. Gateley originally pitched the show internally as Heathers-meets-90210-meets-Dawson's Creek, with a key element being the locker talk at school between classes. That is, until the town decided they didn't want the school to be involved. "Jim Conrad, Lauren's dad, was very collaborative with us and really led the charge and knew that by the point we had a show and we were all invested in each other at that point," Gateley says. "Once we had that cast, there was no way we were going to leave them."
And so the pick-up was born. Because cameras couldn't film at school, they missed a few pivotal moments. Subsequently, producers had to find creative ways to cover them since the show did not feature confessionals or interviews like many other reality shows at the time. "Real World, they could always cover it with an interview, but we had pitched this scripted feel, so we didn't want to do interviews," Gateley says. "So we had to say, like, 'Oh, someone broke up at lunch at school, so how are we going to cover that?' We never scripted it, but we said, 'Can you guys talk about what happened earlier in the day?' And so we had to sort of figure it out along the way."
But Laguna wasn't scripted (just heavily edited). Although such accusations of scripted drama have persisted about its spin-off, The Hills, for years, as the title card points out, "the people, the locations and the drama are real" on Laguna Beach, even if it was made in a "highly stylized, highly directed way and highly scheduled way," as Gateley puts it. "The Hills became such a phenomenon, such a success story that it almost became a caricature of itself because of Heidi and Spencer," she says. "Laguna was not manipulated and we did not ask the cast to do things." But how the cast members were edited is another story. "In the editing, we definitely ratcheted it up," Gateley says. "If Kristin said something nice about someone, we would edit it out. We wanted her to be the bad girl. That's what you do in reality producing. But we told an authentic story."
Once a style maven, always a style maven. Since Laguna Beach, Lauren has gone on to launch two successful clothing lines, her eponymous line at Kohl's and Paper Crown, and Gateley is not one bit surprised. One of the most frequent questions she got about the series was whether the show styled the stars. "I know all the Bravo shows do hair and makeup. I'm like, we never touched these kids. They showed up looking like that," she says. "When we had a cast media training at, like, Johnny Rockets in Laguna Beach, everyone came in shorts and flip-flops and Lauren came in a long black dress and her hair was perfectly coiffed."
What's in the red cups? The entire cast was obviously under the legal drinking age at the time and some, like Kristin and Talan Torriero, weren't even 18 yet. So at parties and bonfires, the stars were always seen with red plastic cups, but their contents were unknown. "We never showed them drinking. Whether they were or not, I would compare them to any other high school kids in their senior year, their second semester," Gateley says. "I think it's probably par for the course across most of America that maybe some of them were, but we didn't see it. Certainly, they're at an age where some of them are participating."
The cast member who didn't show her true colors. Although Gateley says that production had the trust of the cast members and their families — "we wouldn't have had someone on the show whose parent wasn't completely on board," she says — some were more open than others. "Lo [Bosworth]'s mom was super-strict and Lo was like a wild child," Gateley says. "We never really got to show the real Lo because her mom was definitely on her like a hawk."
Stephen's softer side. But that doesn't mean the cameras always compiled to the cast's requests. "There were times when we didn't cave and somebody wanted something taken out," Gateley says. "Then someone would be mad for a couple of weeks, but then you would talk them through why we felt it was important for the story because it happened and the audience needed to know." Gateley says many such disagreements arose over scenes where "someone showed that they were really vulnerable. It was usually a guy," she recalls. "A couple of our guys were not happy that we showed them upset and forlorn about some of the girls after a breakup. I don't remember the exact scene. [It was] definitely a Stephen scene. Lots of Stephen."
The debate over Lauren's voiceover. Every episode of the show opened with title card informing viewers that everything really happened, but that wasn't always the case. "The test audiences didn't know what the show was. They said, 'Are these bad actors that are just reading their lines really bad?'" Gateley recalls of a test screening for the show. "So that's when we put the card at the front of the show that said these were all real events that happened." The test screening also led to the addition of Lauren's voiceover during the post-production process. "We realized we needed someone to catch you up from episode to episode, but also to focus you into every episode," Gateley says. "[Producer] Gary Auerbach didn't want to do it because the show wasn't shot from her point of view, but I thought, again, we had to do something and Lauren was the identifiable good girl. You couldn't really have anyone else in the show voice it as your window in."
You're welcome, Bravo. In addition to Laguna Beach's long life in reruns on MTV, the reality show paved the way for a slew of current hits. "The Real Housewives came along and the Kardashians and Vanderpump Rules. I mean, all the people that we sort of worked with and trained have gone on to do amazing things," Gateley says. "I enjoy watching all of them and so I do see a lot of what we did in a lot of shows and I'm super-proud of it. We were the first and no one will ever be able to take that away from me."
Is a reunion in the cards? Although Gateley says she hasn't pitched one, "I know that other people have tried to get a reunion show going," she says. "I don't know why they didn't pull the trigger. They probably couldn't get enough of the cast together to do it, but I think it would be amazing to see them all together."
Laguna Beach is available on Hulu Plus. Can you believe it's been 10 years since the show's debut?
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