'Laguna Beach' Test Audiences Hated It, Which Thrilled Liz Gateley

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'Laguna Beach' Test Audiences Hated It, Which Thrilled Liz Gateley

Though it’s hard to imagine, there really was a point in time when we knew nothing about Laguna Beach. Prior to the show’s premiere in September 2004, Laguna was a small, secluded town in California, and Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari were just your average (exceedingly rich and popular) high school students. No one remembers those pre-Laguna days quite like Creator and Executive Producer Liz Gateley does, and she shared some surprising reactions to the show when MTV introduced it to its earliest audience members.

Gateley tells me that some of the first people to watch Laguna Beach were focus groups, brought in by the network shortly before the pilot aired. Shockingly, those test audiences had very critical responses to the episode, but for a reason that semi-delighted the production team.

She explains that test audience participants made comments like “These are bad actors,” or “The dialogue is terrible,” clearly misunderstanding that in fact there were no actors or pre-written dialogue. She and the team suddenly realized that “Oh my God, they actually think it’s scripted.”

To grasp how Laguna Beach could be mistaken as scripted, it helps to consider the early aughts context. In creating the show, Gateley had set out to reinvent teen soaps like Dawson’s Creek and Beverly Hills 90210 by focusing on real people, which meant that the final product was unlike anything viewers had seen before. She explains that “No one had really put the lens on regular kids in high school. We had seen rich kids in 90210, and we had seen them with celebrities in The Osbournes, but no one had ever just focused on a beautiful place.”

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