I Went To The Set Of A Reality TV Show And It's Not Like What You Might Think - BuzzFeed News
May 22, 2020 7 mins, 43 secs

Adam DiVello, one of the masterminds behind the shows Laguna Beach and The Hills, invited me on the set of his new Netflix series to show me how he makes reality TV gold.

The person giving me this tour of one of the most expensive homes in the history of the Hollywood Hills was Adam DiVello, the executive producer of the iconic 2000s shows Laguna Beach and The Hills.

I followed his crew as they scouted locations for the second and third seasons of Netflix’s Selling Sunset last June, and then again again in November for a couple of days of filming.

Selling Sunset is DiVello’s newest reality offering, a sleeper hit that focuses on a group of seven women who work at the Oppenheim Group in West Hollywood, a realty agency that specializes in selling very, very expensive homes.

“It looks small, doesn’t it?” DiVello said.

The view from the $43 million house from Netflix's Selling Sunset.

Like most reality TV, the arguments are frequently petty, often rooted in little miscommunications, the conflict largely passive-aggressive, but DiVello knows to add just enough high-end appeal to make his shows feel elevated and compelling.

(His shows aren’t even called reality TV — instead they’re seen as docusoaps.) His brand of television is a lot like the house he was showing me: visually stunning, unaffordable, not really my style — and yet, I would happily be buried in the kitchen.

With Selling Sunset, he’s once again letting us commoners into a glamorous setting, but this time it’s the rarified world of high-end real estate that somehow feels wholly different from all the other real estate shows crowding cable TV.

Selling Sunset is muted in contrast to other reality programming: The cast is hardly as bombastic as any of the women on a Real Housewives franchise, there’s none of that can-do attitude from other home makeover shows, no inspirational music that swells over a bathroom renovated on the cheap.

There are plenty of other reality shows focused on trying to eke out home improvements on a tight budget, or well-heeled women behaving badly, or even other shows about expensive homes for sale, but rarely do you actually want to live in those houses or be around those people.

(Sorry, Kyle and Dorit, but I would rather eat a pile of nails than be either of your friends.) But when Adam DiVello is producing a reality TV world, it’s hard not to wish you could spend a week or lifetime in it.

Unlike other shows about the rich, they’re not produced to be caricatures that veer into absurdity; rather, they’re just normal people who wear feathered cocktail dresses to their boss’s casual dinner.

DiVello (second from left) with the cast of Selling Sunset at the Oppenheim Group real estate office: Chrishell Hartley, Mary Fitzgerald, Davina Potratz, Heather Young, and Jason Oppenheim.

He’s hardly aged from when he did red carpets with the cast of The Hills more than 10 years ago.

And though he won’t say it, he’s already had more success in reality television programming than most people have across the entire span of their careers.

“Liz Gateley had come with the idea to do a reality 90210,” DiVello told me over burgers and salmon grain bowls last June in Hollywood.

2008’s The City followed Lauren’s friend, Whitney Port — the walking Ralph Lauren ad from The Hills cast — when she briefly moved to New York.

Most of his shows have been bona fide hits, namely Laguna Beach and The Hills, which created not just its own kind of reality show subindustry, but also helped form the it girl paparazzi scene of the early aughts.

“With Laguna Beach, I was still in my twenties, so that felt right to me,” said DiVello.

Jason Oppenheim, president of the Oppenheim Group, and DiVello, left, look down from the rooftop of the $43 million house from Netflix's Selling Sunset.

“[There’s] the whole pinball analogy and how you design the shows, which is like creating the perfect pinball machine,” Skyler Wakil, a supervising producer of Selling Sunset, told me.

We put all the money on the camera.” Indeed, there isn’t a whiff of low-budget reality TV in any of DiVello’s shows.

Is the main cast of Selling Sunset likable.

(Amanza is biracial, regrettably making her the only woman of color in the main cast of Selling Sunset, The Hills, Laguna Beach, or The City. Spray tans don’t count.).

If you read my description of Selling Sunset and find it mundane, you’re right.

It’s easy to take someone like Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Teresa Giudice, give her a glass of wine, and let her loose on a bunch of her “friends.” But making a show about real estate and minor tiffs between a small group of colleagues actually interesting reality show fodder requires a very different skillset.

The Selling Sunset crew prepares a home on Mt.

“The main priority tonight is Mary and Romain,” DiVello told his crew.

Selling Sunset executive producer Kimberly Goodman, Adam DiVello, and producer Skyler Wakil sit in "video village," the control room set up in a bedroom during an open house.

He offered details that he thought might be useful to my story — like pointing out what little micro-fights were happening between the cast that I would’ve missed while focusing on the A-plot on camera — since he knows how to craft one himself.

“Because I make reality, I’m aware of what can be done with what I say,” he told me.

I hadn’t, because I didn’t have a Google alert set for “Selling Sunset + cast + divorce.” I quickly learned that Chrishell’s then-husband, Justin Hartley, of This Is Us fame, had very suddenly filed for divorce, which was throwing everything in disarray.

“Whenever you assemble a cast like this, you’re asking them to put their trust in you.” I told him this wasn’t typical behavior for a reality show producer; wouldn’t this be a perfect time to capitalize on the drama of your main character.

A reality TV producer’s role is usually inherently adversarial to the cast — they want to persuade you to share your worst moments and worst tendencies on camera to display to a national audience, or in Netflix’s case, a global audience.

Inevitably, there are people whom DiVello has worked with who do feel somewhat slighted.

They blew up, got megarich, and then became absurdist laughingstocks, getting too much plastic surgery, going on other reality shows to keep their 15 minutes going, and investing in crystals.

“I think the whole show is unfairly edited!” she told BuzzFeed about The Hills.

There are also examples of this on Selling Sunset.

“I wrapped it all in blood like a zombie hit it, and Adam didn’t want to show it — speaking of PC,” Christine said.

“What she’s not telling you is that it looks like they hit a human being,” Divello said.

Regardless, DiVello very clearly resents the allegations that The Hills was overwhelmingly faked?

“I get so pissed when people said that show was faked.

And then people were like, ‘Oh, the show’s so fake.’ It’s like, fuck you.

MTV has since rebooted The Hills, and while DiVello says he was offered an opportunity to be a part of the reboot, he declined.

And as for Heidi and Spencer, who are perennially talking about how a reality show that ended 10 years ago was faked, DiVello is rather zen about their claims.

“You’re always going to have a disgruntled employee at some point in time,” DiVello said.

“Chrishell told Adam and they made us redo the scene.

“I mean,” DiVello said, somewhat stunned, when I asked him about Christine’s claims, “that didn’t happen.

Does he have a way of getting information out of people and getting people to do what they don’t want to do?” she said.

“I’m interesting when I’m not sitting 6 inches next to Adam DiVello, who’s not getting me to shut up,” she said.

Back then, we were all looking for something aspirational to watch; the same is true now, but Selling Sunset and arguably all of DiVello’s shows are dependent on rich people staying rich and buying wildly expensive things on television

“People are always looking for reality television for that escapism,” DiVello said

“A lot of those people that are influencers, they want to be famous,” he said

The brilliance of DiVello’s shows is that he casts people normal enough to be considered regular, but not so normal that they don’t belong on television

In a reality programming landscape where Tana Mongeau gets an MTV series on YouTube, DiVello is still banking on unknown, offline, “average” girl talent

Netflix is typically evasive about the show’s success and ratings, as they are with most of their programming, but it does seem like a real vote of confidence that Selling Sunset is already on its way to its third season

“You’re like, ‘I don’t want it all over my face.’ And then it airs on television and people are like, ‘Aww, I love her!’” he said

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