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Get your entourage, head for 'The Hills'

October 05, 2008|Amy Kaufman | Special to The Times

IN THE weeks leading up to her spring break earlier this year, Rachel Haas, then a high school senior, wasn't concerned with trying on new bikinis or misting herself with a spray tan. Instead, she was obsessively watching MTV's reality show "The Hills" and making a long list of every restaurant and nightclub that appeared on-screen that she wanted to visit on her trip to Los Angeles.

Her ideal itinerary began with her and her friends venturing down the Sunset Strip to eat burgers at Ketchup, where they figured they had a shot of catching the cameras from "The Hills." On the weekend, they'd hit Les Deux, Hollywood's uber-trendy club, with its Euro-themed wallpaper and bottle service.

"My perception of L.A. was that it was a place that felt completely unreal, like a movie set. I had the highest expectations for it -- I thought I'd literally be running into famous people everywhere," said Haas, now an 18-year-old freshman at Washington University in St. Louis.

Haas would eventually visit all of the hip hot spots, but to no avail -- she had no run-ins with anyone from "The Hills," including the show's star, 22-year-old Lauren Conrad. A Maryland native who has been watching the show since it debuted two years ago, Haas readily admits that her entire notion of Los Angeles was formulated via MTV.

Indeed, "The Hills," along with HBO's "Entourage," now in its fifth season, has helped to create a fervor surrounding a glitzy Los Angeles lifestyle that many viewers and tourists like Haas become entranced by and are now seeking to engage in.

Certainly, television shows have long held the power to turn everyday destinations into meccas for rabid tourists. Eager fans have traveled far to snap pictures by some of the spots made famous by their favorite TV characters -- trying on stilettos at the New York City Manolo Blahnik store featured on "Sex and the City" or slugging down a pint at the iconic "Cheers" bar in Boston.

But both "The Hills" and "Entourage" have -- unintentionally -- teamed up to sell the latest desirable lifestyle, using B-roll of sparkling city lights, sun-reflecting surf and palm-tree-lined streets to present a clean, almost ethereal Los Angeles.

"From the very beginning, we wanted to set L.A. up as another character. Many people do come here to pursue their dreams, and it lends itself to that fantasy because it's so beautiful -- a city by the ocean," said Adam Divello, creator and executive producer of "The Hills," which trails Conrad and her friends around the city. By day, they work (or, at least, appear to work) at prestigious public relations companies and fashion magazines; at night, they go on dates and party at the city's poshest establishments.

Such a lifestyle may not be reminiscent of the average American teenager's -- or even the everyday Angeleno's. Despite this, L.A.-based restaurants and nightclubs featured on the two shows have seen a spike in traffic -- creating coveted placement spots for businesses looking to show off their cool factor to potential clients.

"We're very opportunistic, and we know that all of the girls in Kentucky and Iowa are watching 'The Hills' and just by seeing our club featured, it's indirect advertising," said Sylvain Bitton, co-owner of Les Deux nightclub in Hollywood, which Conrad and her pals frequent. "Traffic definitely increases after an episode airs. We have 14-year-old girls come in, in the middle of the day, who ask to take pictures at the booth where they saw Lauren Conrad sitting. They want a piece of the Hollywood glitz."

"Being featured on MTV -- on a No. 1 show in your key demographic -- has definitely helped us and turned our name on to so many because it allows all these kids outside of L.A. to see who we are," echoed Jenifer Rosero, president of VIP services for SBE Entertainment Group, which employs "Hills" star Heidi Montag and owns some of the spots the cast frequents, such as Area and Katsuya.

That Montag doesn't actually have an office job at SBE anymore -- though she still films scenes there -- doesn't seem to matter. Her boss, Brent Bolthouse, has become another character on the show; simultaneously, SBE's profile has risen. Arguably the key player in the L.A. night life scene, SBE is the company behind some of the city's most popular restaurants and bars, such as S Bar and Hyde -- nearly all of which are recurring destinations for "The Hills" cast.

All the right places

Going TO the "right" spot plays a large part on "Entourage" also, since the fictional comedy seeks to realistically show the travails of actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his group of buddies as they cavort about town, meeting with agents and guest-starring at elaborate bashes.

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