MTV reinvents reality TV as it debuts Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.

MTV reinvents reality TV as it debuts Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.
Tonight at 10:30 ET, MTV reinvents the reality television genre that it created fourteen years ago. The Bunim-Murray productions of The Real World and Road Rules introduced television to the dramatic potential of real people’s lives, the narrative potential of interview comments and confessional admissions, and the storytelling and editing style that’s been imitated by nearly every reality TV series from Survivor to The Simple Life.

Tonight’s debut of Laguna Beach ditches all of that. Subtitled “The Real Orange County,” mostly to hopefully pick up some of the cache of that other O.C. show, the series follows the lives of eight 20-somethings who have pre-existing relationships. There will be no indication that they’re on a reality TV show; instead, the series has been shot and edited like a drama.

Executive producer Tony DiSanto tells the New York Post, “I’ve always wanted to try to do a reality show that would use the visual language of a narrative like in feature [films] and dramas instead of the visual language of a documentary.” The show, which wrapped at the end of August, “[used] at least two or three cameras for every shot” and “cameramen with dramatic TV experience,” the Post reports.

In its review of the series, the Hollywood Reporter points out the obvious: this is a “new reality subgenre that’s bound to be imitated and ridiculed, revered and reviled” that “will probably become appointment television for many.” Some of the reviews find the results boring, including The Boston Herald (“remarkably short on drama”) and The Chicago Tribune (“lifeless”). But The New York Times finds the series “is really high school, so precise,” primarily because “no fiction show does as well at evoking, so forcefully, the hot, tribal mentality of high school kids who might just redeem their adolescence with sex.”

+ also: community wonders, “will Laguna Beach ever be the same?”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.