Heavy Filters & Heavy Flirts: An Oral History Of 'Laguna Beach'

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Heavy Filters & Heavy Flirts: An Oral History Of 'Laguna Beach'

Welcome to Cultural Reset, where we uncover the origin stories behind groundbreaking TV shows by chatting with the masterminds who made them. We talk to creators, producers, and cast members about what went down behind the scenes, and share exactly what it took to reinvent pop culture as we knew it.

In the early 2000s, the ingredients of a successful teen drama weren’t something secret. Beautiful young people, a picturesque town, and dramatic personal relationships formed the basis for many hit shows from Dawson’s Creek to The O.C. to Gilmore Girls to One Tree Hill. MTV’s Laguna Beach also followed this framework, but as its disclaimer reminded us, it had one groundbreaking difference: “The people, the locations, and the drama” were all real.

The first show of its kind, Laguna Beach premiered in September 2004 and quickly broke ratings records for MTV as audiences became immersed in the lives of the eight teenagers it followed. Their dilemmas were often earnest, as in the love triangle between LC, Stephen and Kristin, and other times comically vapid, as in when Kristin’s car was utterly “dunzo.” Always though, they were surrounded by striking mansions, golden sunsets, and gorgeous friends, all aspirational elements amplified by the fact that they actually existed.

Over the course of the wildly popular first two seasons of the show, the cast came to symbolize the quintessential high school experience, and unlike their scripted counterparts, their stories didn’t end when the series did. Passionate fans were eager to follow LC’s journey to LA and embraced The Hills spinoff in 2006, which later spawned The City in 2008. To this day there’s still very much an appetite for the Laguna Beach universe, with Kristin Cavallari’s personal life continuously making headlines, Lauren Conrad overseeing her eponymous lifestyle blog and retail empire, and reboots like The Hills: New Beginnings, which premiered in 2019.

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