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The not-so-sunny side

As MTV's `Laguna Beach' tries to recapture its cool chemistry, one of the new teen queens learns it ain't easy being mean.

October 29, 2006|Robin Abcarian | Times Staff Writer

THE cattiness started immediately on the third season of the MTV docu-soap "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County."

"And then there were the popular girls," says Tessa, the season's teenage narrator. "There's Cami, the Queen of Mean. She went out of her way to make my life miserable.... That is Kyndra, the leader of the popular clique. We used to be friends, but she turned her back on me when I needed her most."

Those are fighting words in the hermetically sealed bubble of beachside affluence that is home to the calculating teenagers of "Laguna Beach." To employ one of their favorite phrases: So much drama.

But now that the show has slipped a bit in the ratings, and it has become clear that the new cast may not have the zing of its predecessors, several of whom have broken out on their own, will so much drama be enough? And, in the way of reality shows gone stale, is "Laguna Beach" in danger of losing its freshness because its cast learned how to portray teenagers by watching ... "Laguna Beach"?

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 29, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
"Laguna Beach" air day: An article in today's Calendar section about the MTV series "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" says the series airs at 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays. It airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 05, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
"Laguna Beach" air day: An article last Sunday about the MTV series "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" said the series airs at 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays. It airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays.

When the show made its debut in 2004, it broke new ground in the reality genre and was an instant hit with MTV's coveted 12- to 24-year-old demographic. It was not a contest like "Survivor," nor a contrived situation like "The Real World." Instead, it was an attempt to document -- using narrative techniques, lush cinematography and suggestions from producers -- the supercharged social lives of a clique of overprivileged schoolmates.

For two seasons -- in hot tubs, bistros, bedrooms, boutiques and Baja resorts -- cameras followed the core cast of "characters," making a coherent narrative of the extracurricular ups and downs of their junior and senior years.

The show was a stunning success for MTV, with ratings that put it at the top of its time period against both cable and network shows. It spawned copycats, such as Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Orange County" and the flash-in-the-pan CBS show "Tuesday Night Book Club."

'Reality' spawns celebrity

IT also made minor celebrities of its protagonists, Lauren, Kristin and Stephen, who, luckily for the show's producers, happened to be caught up in a love triangle as shooting began. Lauren Conrad went on to star in "The Hills," an MTV spinoff show that portrays her life as an intern at Teen Vogue. Kristin Cavallari has become a spokesperson for Bongo, the clothing company, and has had an assortment of oddball acting jobs and magazine layouts. Cutie pie Stephen Colletti dropped out of San Francisco State, appears on MTV's "Total Request Live" and is trying to act.

"Laguna Beach," which airs at 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays, is just past the halfway point of the season. Its producers are making decisions about how to proceed with the fourth season, which begins shooting in December. Viewership, while still strong, has declined, which the show's creator said is to be expected. "It's sort of like if you recast '[Beverly Hills] 90210,' " said Liz Gateley, who is also the executive producer. Viewers, she said, have to make "a whole new investment" in the cast. This is where the delicate chemistry of a reality show can get thrown out of whack.

How can you keep acting like a high school kid when you know that a hit MTV show can pretty much derail your college plans and turn you into someone people recognize on the street? The current "Laguna Beach" kids are conscious of the template provided by their predecessors.

Take Cami Edwards, now a 17-year-old senior. She is miffed about being dubbed "the Queen of Mean" by Tessa Keller, but is aware that hyperbole makes for better television. The show has exploited a rivalry between Tessa and Kyndra, playing up a short-lived love triangle between them and a boy named Cameron who, despite an awesome six-pack, just doesn't have the awkward sex appeal of boys from the previous two seasons.

Cami admitted she never felt much antipathy toward Tessa and Raquel before, but "the more they started filming, the more it started turning into a rivalry, just because of the filming, I think."

Now that she's been on TV and in magazines, Cami, who takes advanced placement economics and hopes to attend USC next year, isn't so sure she wants to go to law school. She was a junior when this season was shot, and doesn't hesitate when asked if being on this show can change her life: "I think it will if I push myself to go out and get a publicist. That's what Kristin did. She had the personality on the show to let her do that. Her and Lauren, they moved to L.A. and got publicists who do all that stuff for them -- put them in magazines, go to red carpet events. I think Kristin is taking it as far as she possibly can. She's, like, famous for being famous, like Paris Hilton and stuff."

Kristin had the good fortune to be bright, telegenic and, best of all, the female equivalent of a player -- manipulative, independent, romantically elusive and sexy. Lauren was not just beautiful and sweet, but weirdly, watchably sweet and in complete denial about Stephen's addiction to Kristin.

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