DOWN FROM THE HILLS: MTV’s “reality” TV sensation The Hills is like baseball to me – fun to read about, fascinating in theory, but utterly unwatchable. I’ve had a fair bit of sport making fun of the show since it debuted more than two and a half years ago, but I’ve been forced to admit that there’s something about it that keeps me coming back to the phenomenon whenever I read another feature on the show or its largely interchangeable “stars.”

And the show keeps rolling on, a juggernaut in spite of my agonized curiosity, “the No. 1 cable program among the 12-to-34-year-old demographic,” according to a recent New York Magazine article on The City, the Hills spin-off currently filming in New York City, which promotes one Whitney Port from secondary character to heroine. The New York piece allows itself the customary moment of confusion about its reality credentials, opening on a Manhattan street corner outside a club where Port is about to show up to hang out with her “friends.”

Four cameras are tasked with documenting her arrival, and bystanders have been coached by the show’s producers to look casual. In the club, what transpires hardly seems the stuff of high drama: “The girls drink, the boys drink, the girls giggle, the boys giggle—then, eventually, there’s a flurry of air-kisses and everyone leaves. No tears, no explosive catfights, no misty epiphanies about frayed friendships, not even the vacant pouts that serve as the main form of communication on The Hills.” The magic happens, as anyone who’s watched the show knows, in the editing suite.

A Hills spin-off was increasingly essential for MTV, apparently, since it was becoming harder to edit the product endorsements, paid nightclub appearances and speaking engagements out of Hills star Lauren Conrad’s life, and Port’s life was still roughly “real” enough to make her a decent subject – at least for now. Still, Port already has a clothing line to push, and the cast of pretty young people populating The City don’t bother pretending that they aren’t without ambitions.

Within the social circles that populate the show, “everyone I know suddenly wants to get on that show, or have their own show, or pretend to have a show in order to get on another show,” said Sean Glass, an aspiring filmmaker who recently sold his own Hills/City-like “reality” show to ABC. Olivia Palermo turned down a part on Glass’ show when offered a role on The City, and told MTV’s producers that she wanted to be on TV “because I want to be a brand.” Who, I ask, wouldn’t be fascinated by this?

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