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April 21, 2009

PaleyFest: 'The Hills'

The hills Attending The Hills panel at PaleyFest without being a regular viewer of The Hills is like going to a Friday night party at some condo off Sunset where everybody knows each other and nobody knows you. So you stand there amid an attractive crowd and nod and smile and pretend like you get their jokes.

Helpfully, before the panel the producers screen a 20-minute compilation of clips from The Hills that summarizes the first five seasons of the hit MTV docu-soap.

The clips are either perfectly edited, or the series has incredible amounts of filler because when the lights come up you feel like you just sat through every single episode and understand everything that’s happened: A blonde girl named Lauren moved to Hollywood and fell in love with another blonde girl named Heidi. They broke up when Heidi fell in love with a blond guy named Spencer. Each season the girls wore more obvious makeup and Lauren cries a lot. Oh, and at one point Lauren went to France.

But when the cast comes onstage there’s a glaring omission. Heidi, who was billed to be onstage with Lauren, is not here. This is a considerable letdown, even for those of us who just started watching The Hills roughly 20 minutes ago. We’re told she’s planning for a “big event” this weekend, which is rumored to be her wedding to Spencer. Needless to say, The Hills cameras will be there, and three cast members say they are invited, none of which are Lauren.

The biggest news bits from the Q&A:

-- On the infamous sex tape rumor, Lauren says – spoiler alert -- Spencer finally confesses to the crime in a future episode. “We actually have it on tape,” she said. “He takes responsibility and apologizes for it.”

-- Lauren originally thought when switching from Laguna Beach to The Hills: “This will be a whole new group of friends I wouldn’t fight with,” which seems to not quite understand the type of show she’s on.

-- Producer Liz Gateley, when asked about whether the cast is shallow, reveals, “These folks do talk about a lot of intelligent things -- like global warming -- we just don’t show that on the show.” The idea that Lauren and Audrina have been secretly having off-camera debates about carbon emissions is fascinating.

-- Lauren says she doesn’t regret not going to Paris at the end of the first season, and producer Adam DiVello uses the incident as an opportunity to give an example of how the show does reflect the girls’ spontaneous reality. “We get a lot of flack about the show not being real, but we were all set and ready to go to Paris. We had passports, we were booked, and Lauren said, ‘I want to spend the summer with Jason.’” The producers then captured that final season-closing moment with a spontaneous helicopter shot.

-- The cast talks about the odd cat-and-mouse relationship they have with The Hills camera crew – saving conversations for the cameras, yet occasionally trying to duck the crew, with the producers sometimes coming off like their stalker parents. Lauren recalls literally hiding in the bushes from producers in Hawaii.

“We love them,” said producer Sara Mast. “I cry for them. And at the same time, I feel like we have to get the goods.

“I always applaud you girls for the access you give us,” DiVello said. “You don’t hold anything back.”

-- Lauren said she and Heidi can now “be in the same room.” The Rolling Stone photo shoot last year was “a big deal" in terms of mending their relationship despite the girls having dividers between them while getting their hair and makeup done.

-- Producers were asked if the show will continue beyond the fifth season and gave the usual "we're in talks ... seeing if there are more stories to tell," etc., etc., answer.

And finally, a memorable/poignant/reality-TV-summarizing viewer comment:

“I feel like I know you all so well,” a fan says to the cast. “I keep looking at you and feeling like you’re going to recognize me.”


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