Despite the endless debates over the amount of reality that actually exists in MTV reality series like "Laguna Beach" and subsequent spin-offs "The Hills" and "The City," audiences have never seemed to mind and have made the shows and their respective stars regulars in the lexicon of popular culture. All good things must come to an end, however, and Adam DiVello, who created both "The Hills" and "The City" announced recently that tonight's sixth season premiere of "The Hills" would be its last.
In staying true to the often over-the-top genre, DiVello told our Jim Halterman earlier this week that he has big plans on sending Kristin, Audrina, Heidi, Spencer and Brody off with a bang while also managing to keep "The City" (premiering its second season tonight) growing bigger and bigger. During their chat, DiVello also talked about how the stars of his shows have handled the tricky business of fame, the moment he realized "The Hills" had turned a corner in popularity and how both shows use music differently in telling the soapy stories of the rich and beautiful on both the West Coast ("The Hills" is set in Los Angeles) and East Coast ("The City" follows Whitney Port in the Big Apple's fashion designer world).
Jim Halterman: The obvious first question is what prompted you to end 'The Hills' after this sixth season.
Adam DiVello: I think we all thought it was time. The kids on the show have all gone to different places in their lives and their celebrity lives were becoming much bigger than their personal lives and I think we owed it to the fans and owed to the people who have been with us since the beginning. Hopefully, we'll always leave them wanting more.
JH: There are a lot of big personalities on the show and some seem to have handled the celebrity well and some maybe not as well. How do things from where you sit?
AD: Everyone handles fame differently and I can't think of another reality show that has been on this long with the same cast and they have been under the spotlight for many, many years. I think for the most part they have all handled it really well from my perspective and though I'm not in their shoes I applaud them at how some of them have handled it. You look at somebody like Lauren Conrad who came out of it and she's moving on with other projects and she has handled it really well. As far as the other kids, I think they've really stayed true to who they are. They kept their head on their shoulders and have stayed the same people that they were when we met them, which I think makes them very special and so much fun to watch.
JH: Can you talk about when you first created the show and how you decided on the tone and how the stories would be told on the show?
AD: I think it was back in the day when the idea was floating around to do a reality show in a high school in Laguna Beach. I think it was 'How can we do this and how do we approach it?' We got a great team together in the way it was shot and edited together and I think it changed reality in a sense by taking out those confessionals where the kids talk to the camera. It made our jobs more difficult as producers and storytellers by not having that crutch but I think it gave you the feeling that you were looking in with this voyeuristic feel; you were watching a documentary about these kids and it felt like a scripted series and I think that's what kind of started it.
For me, when we were wrapping up 'Laguna' it was such an incredible experience and it made me move out here from New York and I kind of changed my life at that same time. I think when we left 'Laguna' and did 'The Hills' I really wanted it to be this fish-out-of-water show with the girl from the beach who comes to the big, glamorous city and how she's going to navigate the waters. I think we nailed it. I think Lauren was a great choice because she wanted to work in fashion and she wasn't coming here to be an actress and I think that there was a relatability here that the audience responded to.
JH: When did you realize that 'The Hills' had gotten so big that it was impacting popular culture with so much attention not just on the show but everyone on it?
AD: [Laughs.] When we got the cover of Rolling Stone was a high point, for sure. I think that it was probably around season three when we started to blow up in the tabloids. I think what had happened was whether it was between cycles or when we weren't shooting and the show wasn't on the air but the stories were living in the magazines every week and the interest in these kids was continuing even when the show wasn't airing. That's when you get to point where 'Oh my God, this thing has taken on a life of its own.' Certainly the magazines and tabloids have helped over the years.
You see little snippets of what happened in their lives and then you tune into the series whenever it reappears on air and think it's a full story. I think, for me, when I shot the pilot when we were standing at the Roosevelt Hotel and Lauren was working for Teen Vogue and Heidi crashed the party and she brought Audrina and the guys and Lauren got yelled at by her boss and she was looking out over the pool at the water and I thought 'We have something here. This is going to be special. I think people are going to hitch their wagons to the stories and to this girl's plight in LA.'
JH: Since you had lived in New York before heading to Los Angeles, how was it to return to the East Coast to do 'The City?'
AD: I consider myself a New Yorker. I lived there for 12 years before I came out to do 'Laguna' and 'The Hills' and for me I always knew in the back of mind that I wanted to do a show in New York, as well. When I came out to do 'The Hills' I was in love with LA and I think an ingredient in that show was Los Angeles as a city in itself and I think we showed it with that love that we all had for the city and I knew I always wanted to do the same for New York. Whitney was born here in Los Angeles and grew up in a suburb here called Brentwood and she lived in a bubble in a sense so to have her move to New York City and deal with everything that goes on there seems like a no-brainer to me and it seems to be working. I'm extremely proud of that show and I love what it's done and where it's going this season. We definitely hit our stride this season.
JH: The music is really a big part of both shows and clearances for that music is always a challenge but are these shows so big that you have artists coming to you?
AD: Just like every part of the show, locations have opened up to us now that we couldn't get to in the past but the same thing with music and artists who we usually may have had a hard time getting have been very open about being a part of the show and they have approached us. Even when The Pussycat Dolls approached us to do the theme song [for 'The City'] that theme song was written for us so that right there alone showed that we were in a different stratosphere as far as doors being open. With 'The Hills' I wanted that very California sound and that includes everything from the laid back music to the nightclub and dance tracks. Going to 'The City' I wanted to make an effort to really use more independent bands and make it a more indie sound; it's a more underground and may be something that people won't know right off the bat but they'll go 'I want that on my IPod.'
JH: Besides steering the last episodes of 'The Hills' and 'The City,' what else do you want to tackle?
AD: Right now, the focus is 100% on making 'The Hills' the best possible season that we've ever had. I think this whole thing will only work if this is the best season out of all six. We want this to be the most buzz-worthy one. Also, again, we're focused on 'The City' and making it the best show possible and we all have huge hopes for it. I have a lot of stuff that I'm working on down the pipeline. I've been casting a bunch of stuff. I love doing reality television and I would love to once again reinvent it. I definitely want to get into some sort of scripted hybrid version of what we do. Again, just kind of take what is being done in scripted and turn it on its ears much as we did with these shows.
"The Hills" and "The City" return tonight starting at 10:00/9:00c on MTV.