Back in 2004, a team of MTV producers turned up at a Southern California high school on the hunt for the right group of charismatic teens to front their latest brainchild: a real-life, docu-soap version of Fox’s runaway-hit drama The O.C.
“We’re sitting there in class, and over the daily announcements they announce, ‘Okay everyone, MTV’s here. They’re going to cast a reality show on Laguna Beach. If you’re interested, sign up in the quad at break,'” Christina Sinclair (née Schuller) recalled to Time in 2014. “And I think for any 18 year old, that’s a dream come true. It’s like Grease—when they say they’re going to film their prom and it’s going to be on national television. Oh my gosh, I have to do it!”
In a pre-Kardashians, pre-Real Housewives world, what the network was after was fairly groundbreaking—a glossy-looking, new form of reality TV that simply followed a group of intriguing subjects around waiting for them to make good television. And, after weeks of scouting, when they stumbled upon outspoken blonde junior Kristin Cavallari, her dreamy senior boyfriend Stephen Colletti and his best friend Lauren Conrad, the perpetual girl-next-door who’d been harboring a secret crush, one development exec sent back word to the network: They had it.