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5 Shows like Laguna Beach: Reality Forerunners

Charlotte Lucas itcherFor those of you who may be unfamiliar with ‘Laguna Beach’, it was one of the most successful American reality shows in the noughties. The show followed the lives and dramas of teenagers living in Laguna Beach, running for two seasons and inspiring ‘The Hills’ as a spin-off. Glamorous and wealthy, these teens lived a covetable lifestyle that every viewer lusted after. If you want to watch TV shows like ‘Laguna Beach’, get stuck into ‘The City’ or ‘90210’ for that sweet shot of envy. ~ Charlotte Lucas

The Orange County

‘Laguna Beach’ brought to the fore that old argument – is reality TV scripted or spontaneous?

Viewers demanded to know whether the drama they were so entertained by was real or fake. Since then, former cast members have claimed that scenes were constructed and that the teens just did what they were told to do.

Scripted or not, ‘Laguna Beach’ and its ilk have high entertainment value, giving a glimpse into the lives of the affluent and soon-to-be famous. Read on as I suggest series similar to ‘Laguna Beach’.


Shows Similar to ‘Laguna Beach’…

‘The Hills’ (Done and Done Productions, 2006–2010)

As previously mentioned, ‘The Hills’ was intended as a spin-off featuring ‘Laguna Beach’ cast member Lauren Conrad, to follow her life as she moved away and began a career in the fashion industry. The so called spin-off actually blew up, becoming more popular than ‘Laguna Beach’ could have dreamt of being.

‘The Hills’ mainly focused on the social lives of its cast members, documenting their friendships and romantic relationships as well as the fights and the drama. The show was one of the forerunners for some of the reality programmes airing today, so if you enjoy those, I would recommend watching this.

Similarity Match: 95%
Though ‘Laguna Beach’ and ‘The Hills’ shared both a sunny location and inherited cast members, the latter had a much wider relatability and demographic.

‘The City’ (Done and Done Productions, 2008–2010)

From one spin-off to another: ‘The City’ follows former ‘The Hills’ cast member, Whitney Port, as she moves to New York and becomes a big name in the fashion industry. The premise is the same as its predecessor: an opportunistic young woman sets out to make a name for herself, cameras honing in on her relationships and glamorous social life.

Star of the show, Port, is sweet and likeable and there is sufficient drama to keep a new viewer interested. For me, any show set in New York is already golden because of the cinematography; all those picturesque shots of the amazing skyline are breath-taking.

Similarity Match: 80%
Though ‘The City’ is a complete show on its own, it couldn’t have been aired without ‘Laguna Beach’. However, ‘The City’ had much more potential for longevity.

‘America’s Next Top Model’ (10 by 10 Entertainment, 2003–2016)

‘America’s Next Top Model’ is a hybrid between a televised modelling competition and a reality show. The most beautiful people in America are confined to one house and watched by cameras while simultaneously completing challenges and photo shoots in order to compete with one another. The prize? A modelling contract and the title of America’s Next Top Model.

There’s also an emphasis on the rivalry between contestants, as well as the unlikely friendships. Audiences love to see models fighting and making up, showing that they are real people despite their superhuman good looks.

After more than ten years on air, the show has been cancelled. If you missed it, worry not, because there have been 22 seasons – or ‘cycles’ – so there are plenty of episodes to catch up on.

Similarity Match: 65%
‘America’s Next Top Model’ has that same preoccupation with the superficial as ‘Laguna Beach’, though the latter has even more of a focus on relationships between young people.


If You Like ‘Laguna Beach’, You Will Like…

The following suggestions will inspire envy, just like ‘Laguna Beach’. They project an image of the perfect life, with casts of bright young people with brighter futures. If you’re holed up at home because it’s raining outside, these shows will transport you to another place where the skies are blue and it’s always sunny.

The difference with these suggestions is that they are not reality shows – not even scripted, carefully constructed reality. Here, we take a turn back to the simplicity of good ol’ fictionalised television.

‘90210’ (Sachs/Judah Productions, 2008–2013)

This show was a remake of the original, ‘Beverly Hills 90210’. It featured a cast of impossibly perfect teenagers – not a zit or an awkward phase in sight. This show also had that strange affliction where the aforementioned ‘cast of teenagers’ are in fact played by adults in their twenties. No one seems to notice or care because they are so perfect and so youthful looking.

Yes, this is one of those shows where all the characters have been romantically linked with each other at some point, so don’t get attached to your favourite couple. This is the sort of programme where you have to just sit back, watch and not think too much.

If ‘90210’ never graced your screen, just know how much of a travesty that is. This was arguably one of the most successful spin-offs around. Check out this article for more on the show.

The casts of ‘Laguna Beach’ and ‘90210’ are young and beautiful, but it is easier to invest in the characters of the latter as they are, ironically, more believable.

‘The O.C’ (20th Century Fox Television, 2003–2007)

Think ‘Laguna Beach’ but (more) fictional. A rebel and an outsider, Ryan finds it hard to adjust to life in Orange County as a newcomer. Will rich girl Marissa help him fit in? This show, like many of the recommendations in this list, concentrates on the many intricate connections happening within a group of young friends. Expect couples. Expect that slight bit of cheesiness.

A fair number of teen dramas in the early 2000s followed this narrative of an outsider being finally introduced into the coveted inner circle. This formula worked, drawing in devoted viewers until ratings dropped and ‘The O.C’ was cancelled after four seasons. It’s a shame, as the show would have been good enough to hold up for a few more episodes.

To get a sense of what made ‘The O.C’ so great, read this article here.

‘The O.C’ and ‘Laguna Beach’ both follow the lives of wealthy teenagers living in the Orange County, giving the area much needed publicity, yet viewers seemed to relate to ‘The O.C’ much more.


Life’s a Beach

‘Laguna Beach’ was a reality original: a real guilty pleasure with manipulated action and riveting rivalries. Tension and drama are conjured to create a recipe for great television, one which has endured with derivative reality shows in the years since.

Do you have any suggestions for more TV series like ‘Laguna Beach’? Leave a comment.

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