In the late summer of 2004, MTV premiered “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County,” a captivating “docu-soap” about a group of wealthy teenagers navigating their lives in a sunny coastal town. Nearly 13 years later, MTV is trying to recreate its success.
On Monday, the network will launch “Siesta Key,” about a group of beautiful 20-somethings returning to their Florida hometown for a summer of partying, fun and relationship drama. Hailing from executive producers Mark Ford and Kevin Lopez, both vets of “Laguna Beach,” “Siesta’s” similarities to its predecessor are many.
Most notably, the show brings the unscripted genre to the cinematic style of “Laguna” and spinoff “The Hills,” eschewing the “talking head” interview segments viewers have come to expect from other reality juggernauts like “The Real World,” “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and numerous iterations of “Real Housewives.”
“We’ve always loved that format, but we also know how difficult this format is to achieve,” Ford said in an interview with TheWrap. “And only with the right cast and the right world and the right crew can you even attempt to go there. But we felt like we had all those pieces together in this package.”
In the place of interviews return story elements that harken back to the early, unpolished era of the unscripted genre. Cast members sit down for conversations recapping their lives for the benefit of the cameras, and an endearingly awkward narration from a cast member inexperienced at reading lines opens each episode, setting up the story to come. The rest of the show plays out like a scripted series would — just with real people living their own lives instead of actors performing a script.
“It just became evident that this was the format it should be. It just spoke to us,” Ford said, “It’s a little bit more challenging from a production standpoint, because you have to get it right that day. There’s no going back and salvaging a scene that’s kind of vague and unclear or doesn’t have the right information in it. “
Beyond simple nostalgia, Ford and Lopez are counting on their cast to endear themselves with viewers they way Kristen Cavallari and Lauren Conrad did all those years ago, launching a franchise that ran for the better part of a decade.
“People have pitched us a lot of ‘Laguna Beach’-type shows over the years, and they’re never quite there,” Ford said. “They never quite had the ingredients that made ‘Laguna’ so special. But we felt like this cast had what it took to support this more cinematic telling of their lives.”
“There was enough natural story and drama and rivalry and love and heartbreak — and also real issues — that these kids were confronting that it felt like it could sustain [the format],” he said.
The new show revolves around Alex Kompothecras, the son of a successful Florida chiropractor famous for his local “1-800-Ask-Gary” ads promoting a doctor-referral service (Kompothecras’s father reportedly funded the show’s pilot and is credited as an executive producer). Ford and Lopez call Kompothecras the “organic center” of the show, with the rest of the cast rounded out by his various love interests, friends and classmates.
“What worked for us on ‘Laguna Beach’ was that this was a real set of friends that grew up together, were in high school together and couldn’t get away from each other,” Ford said. “That’s the situation we have in ‘Siesta.’ These kids weren’t brought in, or artificially transplanted into a cast.”
Indeed, “Siesta Key” comes at an interesting point in the reality TV landscape. “The Hills,” the last show to credibly employ this style of storytelling, went off the air in 2010 with a game-changing final moment that cast all of the previous scripting allegations in a new light.
Throughout its run and after its conclusion, much of the conversation surrounding “The Hills” were the near-continuous accusations that much of its drama was staged, scripted or manipulated by producers (“Laguna” took many of the same hits, if to a lesser degree). So when the show signed off for good, it did so with a wink, pulling back to reveal the entire last moments had been shot on a Hollywood backlot.
But despite whatever TV magic producers have to work to turn everyday life into compelling television — editing, prompting dialog and planning events to bring characters together at opportune moments — Ford and Lopez say whatever unfolds will always be rooted in reality.
“All the best scenes that we remember from ‘Laguna’ and ‘The Hills,’ something real was happening between those two cast members,” Ford said. “It might’ve been a production to get those two cast members in right place to have this conversation, but you can’t fake emotional truth. And viewers are even more sophisticated now than they were in 2004.”
“Our goal is to seek that our and build story around those emotional truths, and let the cast share their emotional truths throughout the season,” he said.
“Siesta Key” premieres Monday, July 31 at 10 p.m. ET.