“The whole first season was such an out of body experience for me. Way at the beginning it was very much like, we’re going to put you in real scenarios and not really tell you what’s going on, which is how I think they were able to get everybody to be themselves at first. Then you get to a certain point where things get boring, so the writers and producers had to start thinking about how to spice things up and make certain things more dramatic. I really did take my job at Teen Vogue seriously though. I showed up, I worked hard. To this day I do have this insecurity that people don’t take me seriously because I was on a reality show where people thought that I was like this version of myself. People viewed me as this kind of airhead blonde chick from L.A. that was along for the ride, and that’s not who I am.”
The Hills Are Alive
As MTV’s hit show readies for its comeback, former and current cast members reminisce about growing up, getting famous, and altering reality long before social media came on the scene.
Once upon a time, in a land not far from the corner of Wilshire and La Brea, two blondes on the cusp of a peculiar new kind of fame met by the pool and embraced. Lauren Conrad had just arrived at her new Los Angeles apartment complex, and her roommate Heidi Montag was already there, wearing a tiny green bikini and working on her tan. The young stars of The Hills had arrived, and reality would never be the same again. It was May 31st, 2006, and these were the first few frames of MTV’s follow-up to the popular reality series Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, which had constituted the network’s effort to capitalize on the massive success of the scripted Fox series The O.C., a sexy soap about privileged California teens behaving badly. Where Laguna Beach had followed Conrad and her friends (privileged California teens behaving only occasionally badly) for their final two years of high school, The Hills would follow Conrad’s transition to young adult life about an hour and a half up the 405: new friends, new boys, new drama. It was post–Sex and the City, pre–Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and smack in the middle of a Devil Wears Prada takeover of the zeitgeist. Thirteen years later, those California girls are all grown up, and several are back for more, set to star in The Hills: New Beginnings, a reboot of the show that first made them famous.
Conrad was the original narrator, and the character around whom the rest of the cast—Montag; their neighbor, Audrina Patridge; Conrad’s childhood best friend Lo Bosworth; Conrad’s work friend Whitney Port, and a slew of rotating male romantic interests and peripheral work associates—orbited. It was all set in a sun-drenched fantasy called Los Angeles, where everyone was good looking, but not improbably so, and things always got dramatic enough to be interesting, but nothing too serious ever happened. There were parties, celebrity cameos, flirting and fighting, toxic relationships, epic screaming matches, extended pregnant pauses, stressful workplace confrontations, and arguably television’s most famous single, mascara-filled tear. The show was a massive hit: during the series’ run, up to 4.8 million viewers were tuning in each week to join in on what producers later called a “fun, six-season trip to California”, and they were invested in the stories, the lifestyle, the jobs, and even the clothes they saw on screen. (This eventually translated to merch: Kitson, a West Hollywood boutique popular at the time with paparazzi targets like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears, at one point sold T-shirts during The Hills’ run that read “Team Lauren” or “Team Heidi,” reflecting an on-screen friend breakup.)