Reality Star Gets New MTV Show

Nov 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

MTV has ordered 11 episodes of a “Laguna Beach” spinoff to be shot in the “reality drama” style pioneered by the hit show, the network confirmed last week.

The new series, called “The Hills,” stars Lauren Conrad, or “LC” as she’s known on “Laguna.” Ms. Conrad is a 19-year-old aspiring fashion designer described by the network as “the girl with everything.”

In spinning off “Laguna,” MTV is bolstering its reality-drama slate beyond the recently announced series order for “8th & Ocean,” a reality drama in which 10 wannabe models live together in a house in South Beach, Fla., that’s set to premiere in the first quarter of 2006.

The spinoff also takes a move from the VH1 playbook. In the past year VH1 has given shows to former “Surreal Life” cast members Christopher Knight and Adrianne Curry (“My Fair Brady”) and Brigitte Nielsen and Flavor Flav (“Strange Love”).

Brian Graden, president of entertainment for MTV Networks Music Group, oversees programming for both MTV and VH1. Mr. Graden said he won’t rule out ordering more reality dramas for MTV, but he would prefer to first see how “Ocean” and “The Hills” fare.

“We constantly hedge our bets. We’re trying to make sure we have about 20 different concepts that might pioneer the next language of expression,” Mr. Graden said.

MTV also has just greenlighted a reality series tentatively titled “Barbershop”-not to be confused with the Showtime series of the same name that’s based on the theatrical films. MTV’s “Barbershop” is set in a Queens, N.Y., establishment where customers discuss topics such as music, dating and fashion. The number of episodes and airdate have not yet been finalized.

The “Laguna” spinoff will follow Ms. Conrad as she tries to break into the fashion industry while juggling romantic entanglements. One source described the series as “a reality version of ‘Felicity’ set in the Hollywood Hills.” Like “Laguna,” “Hills” will be shot like a theatrical drama, without on-camera confessionals. The series is scheduled to debut early next year. “LC is a very compelling character to me and our audience as well,” Mr. Graden said. “She very much wears her emotions on her face. Her reaction is apparent to things around her. In a reality series where you don’t control the lines, that’s a pretty important tool for telling a story.”

The series is executive produced by Tony DiSanto and Liz Gately, who is also the showrunner for “Laguna.”

On “The Hills,” Ms. Conrad leaves her home in the coastal enclave, moves in with a roommate in Hollywood and lands a fashion industry internship. Mr. Graden said “The Hills” will pick up where “Laguna” left off but will have a different focus.

“‘Laguna’ pivots on one idea: that they all live in this protected bubble,” he said. “This takes somebody away from where they’ve grown up in and puts her down in the real world, where she’s having to go after her dreams. It’s not just ‘Laguna Beach 2’ per se; it’s more about following a single character. When you’re in the real world, suddenly all the stakes become higher.”

No Pimpin’ in ‘Hills’

Though “Hills” takes place in the fashion world, Mr. Graden said, the series won’t necessarily have advertising product placement, as programs such as “America’s Next Top Model” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” have. “To integrate products is all the buzz right now, but for this show it’s different from ‘Top Model’ or ‘Queer Eye.’ Those formats distinctly lend themselves to pimping the products,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll have ways to work with sponsors that are not as overt.”

MTV recently ordered a third season of “Laguna,” which follows the lives and loves of a group of wealthy Orange County teenagers. Unlike MTV’s last breakthrough reality format innovation, the celebrity reality series “The Osbournes,” which other networks were quick to copy, “Laguna Beach’s” reality-drama concept has not yet been imitated. Mr. Graden credits the lack of imitators to “Laguna’s” being a ratings late-bloomer. The first season lost about 30 percent to 40 percent of its “Real World” lead-in and was only a modest success.

This past summer, however, the show took off in the ratings and as a pop-culture touchstone. The series wasn’t the highest-rated MTV reality vehicle of the summer- that distinction still goes to “Real World”-but “Laguna” was second-highest, averaging 2.6 million 12- to 34-year-old viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, and garnering plenty of press.

“‘Laguna’ was greenlighted almost two years ago and it was viewed as a risky proposition to take out explanatory sound bites and shoot in a completely stylized fashion akin to a film or a drama, as opposed to every reality show where you’re spoon-fed every emotion,” Mr. Graden said. “You had to have patience. I don’t think people have mimicked it yet because it’s only clear now that there’s something innovative going on here.”