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'The Hills': Fake or not? Does it matter?

October 31, 2007 | 12:23 pm

Lauren An "is it scripted or isn't it?" storm is brewing around this season of "The Hills."

Some sloppy editing in recent episodes, reported in several newspapers and blogs, have raised the question, and last week an online expose by series "star" Lauren's onetime date Gavin Beasley sent "Hills" fans into a tizzy trying to figure it out.

MTV has always 'fessed to so-called pickup shots, staged scenes that address issues of continuity and not storylines. But no one at the network will talk about the bomb that dropped Thursday, when an interview surfaced with Beasley that divulged the level of manipulation that goes on in "The Hills." (Interestingly, the interview was conducted with the blog www.BestWeekEver.TV, a product of an MTV sister network. "Et tu, VH1?")

The network declined to comment on the posting, perhaps the most incriminating evidence yet to surface supporting the -- let's face it -- fairly obvious allegation that the show's drama is largely manufactured by its producers. Beasley divulged behind-the-scenes details of his cameo, including how the producers asked him to get Lauren's phone number and listed questions he should ask her during their scene. "They wanted me to ask her about the runway show, how long she had worked that day, when would she get off, stuff like that," Beasley says.

He goes on to say that producers set up a barbecue party for the gang -- as in, producers rented the beach house, bought the food and drinks -- specifically so Brody and Gavin could meet, thus providing the fodder for an episode that would revolve entirely around Brody becoming jealous of Gavin. That fact wasn't lost on Brody, according to Beasley. "At one point, some other dude walked up to [Brody and me] while we were talking, and Brody goes, 'We're trying to film a scene here. Do you mind?' like he's interrupting our lines ... it was some of the best acting I've ever done."

Scripted or not, watching L.A.'s most popular layabouts bicker and backstab has been the definition of guilty pleasure since its launch a year and a half ago. You can't write someone like perpetual backstabber Heidi, who made herself so fun to hate during the second season. Heidi, however, has been sidelined this season by the considerably more bland Lauren, so can you blame the producers for trying to stir the pot? Especially when their subjects, with the exceptions of Heidi and Spencer, are the pretty and passive? At least Team Heidi is trying to live up to the role as bad guys, as evidenced in the routine publicity-seeking calls to Ryan Seacrest's radio show, People magazine and TMZ.

If producers are in fact helping things, er, roll along, though, then why is this season so dull? Sure, with Lauren and Heidi on the outs, the series has split into two so-so shows starring each girl in which conflicts are few and far between. Now that he's won over Heidi, Spencer has been relegated to apartment furniture, while the coma-inducing Brody has been upped to costar status. The producers have also made the mistake of promoting Whitney and Audrina to Lauren's chief sidekicks. Unfortunately for them, both are more venting boards for Lauren than anything else. Whitney's stuck in storylines revolving around Teen Vogue business -- the series' Achilles' heel -- and Audrina is only as good as her on-screen time with Justin Bobby. (And thank heavens for the Tao of Justin Bobby. On relationships: "We can either kick rocks and be acquaintances ... or let truth and time tell all.")

It's too late to fix this season with only six episodes to go, and so we offer some suggestions for the producers, who are no doubt drumming up new drama for the season that is currently filming.

Let's not give the girls their space. Remember this season's first episode when Lauren and Heidi got into a screaming match at the nightclub LAX? We like that. Their run-in at Ketchup? Gimme more! Send them to the same events, the same "BBQ parties." It's the stuff "A" storylines are made of. These last few episodes have barely merited B-level.

Less is more. Maybe an 18-episode season wasn't the best idea. We know the show is MTV's bread and butter right now –- "Kaya" had a lukewarm reception Tuesday, and "Making Menudo" tanked -- but its (deceiving) previews for next week have become the best part. Last night's episode, inaccurately titled "Stress and the City," sent Lauren and Whitney to New York, where (a) Whitney gave a horrible presentation to the Teen Vogue staff and was soon relieved to find that as a "Hills" regular no harm can befall you; and (b) Lauren did a some grunt work for her idol Marc Jacobs (only to play it a little too cool when they were introduced). The pair return to L.A., and Lauren cuddles up to Brody once again. We'd settle for 13 episodes where, ya know, better stuff happens.

Acknowledge "The Hills' " popularity on the show. Follow them to the nightclubs. Watch them address the press. Crash the photo shoots of Lauren and Heidi (who were dueling magazine cover girls last month). Get in on Heidi and Spencer's publicity-starved strategy sessions -- you know they have them -- and their early-morning calls to Seacrest. All this reality behind the reality drama is precisely what's made the show a hit, right?

Then again, that might be a little too real for this reality show.

-- Denise Martin

(Photo courtesy MTV)