Orange County inspired Reality TV. Perfect weather, money, beaches. Over the past couple of decades, the popularity of reality television has made Orange County the perfect setting of some of the most successful reality TV shows to date. From over-the-top scenarios to being extra dramatic, this is reality TV.
An oldie, but a goodie, The OC launched the geographic reality TV craze in Orange County. The show debuted in August of 2003, and lasted four seasons for a total of 92 episodes. It took place in Newport Beach and was truly a teen drama. The OC originally aired on Fox and was actually filmed in LA county on beaches such as Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. The show is based around Ryan Atwood who is from a broken home and adopted by the Cohens who have a teenage son, Seth. The series explores Ryan and Seth being outsiders in the high-end neighborhood of Newport Beach. You can stream the series on HBOMax.
Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County
Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County aired on MTV from 2004 to 2006 for three seasons and was based on the lives of Laguna Beach High School students. The first season was narrated by Lauren Conrad who was a senior at the time. That season was based on the lives of students Stephen Colletti, Lo Bosworth, Morgan Olsen, Christina Schuller, Trey Phillips and juniors Kristin Cavallari and Talan Torriero, as well as Lauren Conrad. The following season was narrated by Cavallari and included new additions to the cast such as Taylor Cole, Alex Murrel, Jessica Smith, and Jason Wahler. The third season included yet another new set of students and narration until its cancellation in 2006 and that series only aired in the UK and Australia. The series, dubbed a ‘guilty pleasure’, was criticized as too scripted for a reality television series for its use of narration. Laguna Beach sparked spin offs such as The Hills. Stream on Amazon with premium subscriptions for CBS All Access and MTV.
The Hills was a spin-off of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and the fashion career of Lauren Conrad. The series aired for six seasons from 2006 to 2010 and took place in Los Angeles. Lauren Conrad’s roommate Heidi Montag, Audrina Patridge, Lo Bosworth, and Whitney Port, and their boyfriends. While the show does not take place in Orange County it takes some of the OC flair and makes it into yet another successful reality television show based on Southern California. Stream it on Hulu.
The Hills: New Beginnings reunited the original cast members plus their kids and a few new faces. This sequel to The Hills premiered in 2019 on MTV and was cancelled after two seasons.
The Real Housewives of Orange County
The Real Housewives reality series debuted in 2006 on the Bravo network. The series sparked numerous spin offs including New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, DC, Beverly Hills, Dallas, Salt Lake, Potomac, and Miami. The entire plot of the show is the unfiltered segments of the lives of high end women. The Real Housewives has turned reality TV upside down and become the norm in this genre of television. The series is in its 14th season and isn’t slowing down. Stream it on Hulu.
Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County
Another MTV original reality TV series, Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County, aired from 2007 through 2008 and followed the lives of rich Newport Harbor teenagers. The series only had two seasons and 12 episodes, it was intended to build off of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange county to avoid fully cancelling the series.
Reality television is rich in Orange County and Southern California in general. While several of these series’ have been cancelled they’ve each played a role in the evolution of reality television as we know it. Way to go, Orange County!
Other TV Shows Filmed in Orange County
- Flip or Flop – Various OC locations
- Gilligan’s Island – Opening scene with SS Minnow is Newport Harbor
- Life of Ryan – Reality show that followed pro skater Ryan Scheckler. Filmed in San Clemente
- Dirty John – Bravo Series, filmed in Newport Beach and other OC cities
- From the Earth to the Moon – 1998 HBO Mini series, filmed at Tustin Hangars
- The Aquabats! Super Show!
- American Horror Story: Asylum – Exterior scene filmed at Old Orange County Courthouse
- American Horror Story: Cult – Protest scenes filmed at Orange Circle
Movies Filmed in Orange County
- Accepted (2006) – Filmed at Chapman University
- American Sniper – Scenes filmed in Seal Beach and other OC areas
- A Scanner Darkly (2006) – Anaheim & Tustin
- Beaches (1988) – Filmed at Crystal Cove. Starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey
- Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) – Cypress & Anaheim
- Borat (2006) – The Block of Orange
- Brick (2005) – San Clemente
- Catch Me If You Can – old Orange County Courthouse
- Clockstoppers (2002) – Old Town Orange
- Defending Your Life (1991) – Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley
- Demolition Man (1993) – The Park Place, Irvine Corporate Mall
- The Fast and the Furious (2001) – Little Saigon in Westminster
- Gleaming the Cube (1989) – Anaheim, Irvine, John Wayne Airport
- Iron Man – Masimo office building in Irvine
- Jerry Maguire (1996) – Fashion Island & John Wayne Airport. Starring Tom Cruise
- North (1994) – Old Orange County Courthouse
- Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – UC Irvine
- Rain Man (1988) – Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise
- Savages (2012) – Multiple OC locations including Laguna Beach
- Star Trek (2009) – Tustin Hangars
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Rebecca has an undeniable love of writing and recently graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. She enjoys watching hockey, scuba diving, swimming, and working out.