reality tv

"Wouldn't let me leave until we got into a fight." How shows like The Hills are scripted.

With the return of The Hills: New Beginnings this week, super fans have been reminded of the iconic series’ finale, a twist ending which saw the camera pan away to reveal a set of the surrounding street being pulled down, with the sound of a director yelling “cut!”.

It confirmed suspicions the reality program – which for many of us, defined our teen years as we yearned to live a life like Lauren Conrad’s – was indeed, fake.

As the years went by from the 2010 finale, and the cast opened up about what it was like to star on the show, more and more stories of scripted scenes, fabricated arguments and producers with a storyline to push emerged.

A producer reveals how reality TV is scripted. Post continues after podcast.

“Kristin and I had to get into a fight over Justin,” Lauren Conrad – who had moved on from fellow cast member Justin Bobby long before Kristin Cavallari became involved with him – once revealed in an interview with Entertainment Tonight.

“They wouldn’t let me leave until we got into a fight over Justin and made it a big deal (that she was with him). That’s when Kristin and I went to the bathroom and talked and were like let’s just do this so we can both leave.”

the hills reboot
Image: Supplied.

And so, one of the most memorable arguments aired on the program was born.

Audrina Patridge, who has returned to the new season of the show, also said they often just did what the producers told them, just so they could move on with their lives.

And when the gang went to Paris for an episode, Lauren Conrad told Us Weekly she got into a "huge fight" with a producer in the hotel lobby after he expressed disappointment that she hadn't kissed a boy she met on camera.

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“He was like, ‘You didn’t even give him a kiss good night',” she recalled.

“I was like, ‘I don’t like that boy — why would I kiss him good night?!’”

Heidi Montag didn’t try to trick her husband into having a baby either - which was one of the show's most dramatic plot points.

“Yeah, I would never do that,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “I think that’s the worst thing any human could do. I don’t like tricking or manipulating people or things like that. I think that’s a really important step, and I was way too young. I wasn’t even thinking about kids then.”

With the revelations breaking the spell of the show many believed to be a true documentation of these privileged Californian's lives - fans have been left to wonder just how many other reality television programs are fooling us, too.

Speaking to The Quicky, Troy DeVolld, a US story producer with titles like The Osbornes, The Surreal Life, The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars to his name, says most reality shows, to some extent, are scripted.

"Reality shows are all produced in different methods," Troy explains to host Claire Murphy.

"Some are what I call retro-scripted, where you go out and you shoot everything as it happens, where you're basically documenting and adding commentary to it afterwards and cutting to whatever supports your narrative.

Watch the trailer for The Hills: New Beginnings below. Post continues after.

"There are some shows that are scripted in that there are outlines prepared before you go out into the field. You're shooting to an outline hoping that you'll get some of that material back," he continues.

"There are shows that are what they call soft-scripted, where there are a lot of objectives in a scene that need to be met in order for it to move forward. So a scene has to accomplish X, Y and Z, and anything that happens around that is all organic as people come up with things, adding whatever they think is funny."

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He says "soft-scripted" scenes where a producer is hoping for a strong response from one contestant can often be where the magic of reality TV unravels - giving viewers a glimpse into the lie behind the drama.

"The only time you can ever go wrong is if you're scripting a response, or a reaction. (For example) we want you to be appalled that this has happened, and that's when you see fights where people are sort of half-smiling during a fight because they know that they're going to have to argue with each other and it's just silly to them to have to perform to that point.

He says this often makes for "pretty bad TV".

This year alone, we've seen fiery arguments break out on Australian reality TV shows like MAFS, not to mention dramatic cheating scandals between the couples set up through the programs, which many viewers were quick to call-out as scripted.

Cyrell-MAFS-reunion-FB
MAFS contestants Cyrell and Martha infamously had a wine-throwing fight at the final dinner party. Image: Nine.

Some of the contestants, as we soon discovered, had backgrounds in acting, too.

And the latest offering to the realm of Australian reality TV - Channel 9's The Super Switch - has already teased enormous fights between couples involved in the "social experiment" which sees couples paired with new partners to test their relationships.

super switch 2019 channel 7
The program is said to be "even trashier" than MAFS in its later episodes.
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These instances of intense arguments unfolding on reality TV is a case where the contestants - or cast members - have taken matters into their own hands in a quest for air time, Troy speculates.

"I've never seen someone throw a drink in another person's face in real life," he jokes.

"It happens constantly in reality television, and it's not at the behest of the producers.

"People know that if they're not providing drama, they're less likely to show up in the final cut. A lot of that is self-generated, there are people that get on reality shows and think that if 'I can't behave in an intense and interesting manner, they're just going to cut me out of the show... then I won't be famous, I won't be able to capitalise on my 15 minutes.'"

On The Bachelor, the "villain edit" is one contestants like Romy Poulier and Cat Hennessey received, fuelling the drama of the program through their treatment of fellow contestants.

It was later revealed that Romy Poulier does have a background in acting, and had gladly accepted the role as "villain" for more screen time.

Alisha and Cat were dubbed the season's "mean girls" while courting Nick Cummins. Image: Ten
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Troy explains: "If you have a scene where there are five or six people, you might do what they call seeding content, where you get together and you tell one person could you please start a conversation about what happened last Thursday so that people understand what happened.

"That person will walk into a room and say "What was that all about on Thursday" and people will start talking. After that scene plays out, the producer may stop down and say 'Look, I know you left out this information or this information, could someone please mention X, Y or Z,' so that the conversation still feels very natural."

He also says that in "talking head" scenes, producers often drive how contestants answer questions to fill in gaps of information for the viewer.

"There are some places where you need to have information... imagine you've got a huge hole in the wall, and you're trying to get us from A to B for something to make sense.

"I might say a line, then say - give me a version of that line in your own words. That way, the information that ends the scene then brings us into the next scene."

He says it's common for savvy contestants to push back against producers, aware they could be edited in a certain way.

"There are so many people on reality shows that come in with an agenda of what they want to look like, then the story goes in one direction and you try to interview them about something that actually happened, and they're like 'Well I'm not going to talk about that because I don't want you to use it'."

This, he says, is where contestants who are happy to "narrate" come in handy - as they can tell the story in place of the person actually involved, similar to Alisha Aitken-Radburn on Nick Cummins' season of The Bachelor.

Troy says that ultimately, great reality TV is genuine. That what people find most engaging is watching natural reactions to a stressful situation they wouldn't want to be in themselves.

And what could be more stressful than reuniting with the cast you consistently fought with - coerced or not - for six seasons straight like The Hills: New Beginnings?

You can watch The Hills: New Beginnings in Australia on Foxtel, Foxtel Now and Fetch.

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