MTV's sexy soaps influence fashion, mags and the way teens speak
It's hard to avoid MTV's docusoap "The Hills" these days.
The show, launching its third season tonight at 10, and its predecessor, "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County," have changed the face of TV. But their reach is far beyond the small screen, affecting fashion, celebrities and the lexicon of teenagers.
Call it the "Laguna" effect.
Even travel destinations are not immune. A Mexico hotel has seen its business grow simply because the cast of "Laguna," which spawned "The Hills," visited there.
"Year after year, we have at least two to three calls a week asking, 'Hey, is that the place where 'Laguna Beach' was filmed?" says Raul Petraglia, general manager of luxury hotel Me Cabo (formally Melia San Lucas), where the "Laguna" kids shacked up on spring break for three seasons.
"The image we've gained from the show is better than any brochure," he says. "Everybody knows 'Laguna Beach.'"
Petraglia estimates his hotel has racked up $250,000 in bookings thanks to the show.
The 2004 debut of "Laguna Beach," with its glossy closeups and soap opera-esque story-lines, made household names of a group of good-looking teenagers from an affluent town in California. When it launched, Lauren Conrad, Kristin Cavallari and Stephen Colletti were relatable to MTV's target audience because they lived typical high school dramas, albeit with a totally upscale backdrop.
Then came "The Hills" two years later - a spinoff of "Laguna" featuring Conrad and new pals Heidi Montag and Audrina Patridge living in Los Angeles with even more designer duds and even more money.
Audiences lusted after their apartments, their high-profile jobs, their lives.
Back-to-school sales will be up by 5% to $27 billion this fall, in part because teens will seek out luxury items they see on TV, officials from the International Council of Shopping Centers told the Associated Press earlier this month.
"They have been surrounded by celebrities and TV programs where fashion is the central point," Ellegirl.com's fashion market editor Jacqueline Nasser said in an article that cites "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills" as main influences.
Because the casts have turned into stars, fans not only want to dress like them or vacation like them, they also want to know all about them.
As a result, tabloid magazines have jumped on "The Hills" bandwagon in recent months, chronicling the girls' love lives, feuds and even news of Montag's recent breast job.
"'The Hills' was MTV's highest-rated show last season, so there's already a built-in interest there," said Usmagazine.com's editorial director Ken Baker of the publication's decision to start covering the life and times of MTV's reality darlings.
"On top of that, from a media perspective, the people on the show are just a dream because they say what's on their mind. They're willing to say, 'I don't like this person and this is why,' and basically trash each other.
"When did you ever see an interview with the cast of 'Friends' where Jennifer Aniston was trashing Courteney Cox? Or Matthew Perry was saying how Matt LeBlanc was a camera hog? These kids, they just go for it."
Even secondary elements of both shows find their place in the cultural consciousness.
Conrad's "Hills" place of employment, Teen Vogue magazine, has benefited from minimal on-air exposure.
During a time when publications, particularly those aimed at generation Y, are folding left and right, Teen Vogue has so far stood its ground, even slapping Conrad on the cover more than once and making semi-celebrities of Conrad's fellow interns Whitney Port and Emily Weiss.
And we won't soon forget the "Laguna" lexicon, which brought us words like "dunzo," meaning, "The car my daddy gave me overheated because I was too busy deciding who to go to prom with to check the oil - it's dunzo."
Or "The Hills"-dubbed "homeboy phone" on which only your bros can call. Your other phone is for all the ladies.
With season three of "The Hills" premiering tonight, viewers are sure to tune in to see where the girls are going out, who Conrad is wearing, and what Heidi's silicon looks like on the small screen.
Can an uptick in boob jobs be ahead? Somewhere, plastic surgeons are sharpening their scalpels, hoping for "The Hills" effect.