In 2004, Laguna Beach introduced viewers to the lives of Californian high schoolers, complete with rivalries, relationships, and fancy cars. Now, The Chernin Group is partnering with AT&T to bring the next generation its own Laguna Beach … with a bit of a twist.
On June 17, The Chernin Group will kick off a new reality show, titled @SummerBreak, which will follow eight high school juniors and seniors through their final summer together in California. But here’s the thing: The drama won’t unfold on your television. Instead, the entire eight weeks of drama will play out through social media. Viewers will follow the lives of the carefully casted teens through Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube.
EVP of Production and Programming at Chernin Digital Billy Parks talked to us about the logistics of the show and why he thinks it will work:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s the best way for viewers to watch this show?
BILLY PARKS: You want to follow the @summerbreak handle, so as you’re following the handle, there will be, in your feed 10 to 20 tweets a day at our various forms of content. They’ll either be things that we’ve retweeted from the cast members, our own narrative creative voice either commenting on what’s going on or just commenting thematically on summer related topics, or it will be actual media from the show. But the idea, generally, is that there’s eight kids tweeting. They’re living their lives, they’re using Instagram and Twitter to narrate, and then we’re following them around with a crew and everyday we upload a one to two minute piece that happened that day. The idea is over the course of the summer as you follow them, you get a sense of their lives and their narrative the same way you would experience a typical doc or reality show, but you basically get it through this feed in bits and pieces as they’re happening.
So this is more of a mobile experience?
It’s a pretty mobile experience. We find that most of what’s consumed is consumed through the mobile device and you can watch the episodes right there as you’re looking through your feed or you can follow the characters and get in their lives, the same way you would follow any celebrity.
When the show kicks off on June 17, we will be following everything in real time?
Exactly. We’ve been shooting them for a couple weeks to do two things. One is to get them used to it so we’re not starting cold. And the other is to get bits and pieces of promotional materials and also to start to understand their back stories and start to understand who they are and get a little deeper with them. We have no idea what’s going to happen this summer; this has never been done before. What we think we will do is release, on the 17th or maybe the day before, a bunch of some of the things that have been happening over the couple weeks to basically catch people up and say this is where we are right now. But we haven’t 1000 percent decided that yet. It’s an experiment. It really is.
How did you choose these kids?
We had them come in and do typical interviews. Once we picked our favorite 50 or so, we started really looking at all of their social profiles as a massive part of casting: how often do they tweet, what do they communicate when they tweet, how do they frame their lives online, how are they really using social media as a way to communicate with each other, as a way to express themselves to frame their lives. That was a really big part of it. We picked the kids who grouped together the best. Most of them are high school seniors. There’s a couple juniors in there who are going to be saying goodbye to good friends.
How much producing is involved?
Every once in a while if nothing’s going on we’ll say go grab that guy and go to lunch. That’s as much producing as we do.
Do you monitor what they tweet?
They’re allowed to say whatever they want. We have to make sure they aren’t doing anything illegal. We have 20-hour-a-day moderation, which means we have a red light, green light, yellow light process. As long as every thing’s cool with it, we give it a green light. So they send out a tweet, it comes to our moderation team, and we give it a green light. As long as there’s nothing illegal going on or no excessive language or cyber bullying, things like that, we give it a green light. If it’s something that’s illegal or nudity or super foul language, we’ll give it a red light.
With your audience, do you think it matters what platform a show is on?
I don’t think these kids watch television. I think they’ll consume media if it’s cool wherever it is. We’re trying to take the conversation that’s already going on on these platforms and give it a little bit of some organizing principles. For example, all these kids do a great job of taking pictures of themselves, but that’s not going to get out there to a massive market unless they have a little bit of a marketer’s brain. So we know how to tag everything, put it on Tumblr properly and also putting some marketing money behind it to get that out. So we’re kind of amplifying what they’re already doing. What we’re really trying to do is create content for these platforms.
Why do you think this will work?
We think it will work because we are trying to be native to each platform, just like when they create film for theaters and television for television, we’re trying to be native for each platform and really trying to mimic the way everybody uses it. But we’re trying to give it some organizing principles. I think a lot of people use these platforms as an additive experience, and we think that there’s so much conversation, so many eyeballs and so much media being consumed on these platforms that there’s no reason that we can’t make this the full experience on these platforms.
How will the storytelling differ from something like a Laguna Beach?
Laguna Beach we shoot it and then I spend four months crafting characters. We decide story arcs over the course of the whole show, we decide who’s going to end up looking crazy, who’s going to be the bad guy, who’s going to be the good guy, and we can’t really do that here. We have a sense of people’s personalitites, but we can’t tell you exactly what they’re going to do. It lends to an authenticity that we have to maintain because we can’t craft the whole story in post, we have to craft it as it’s really happening. The other part of it is these kids have the opportunity to let us know when they don’t like something. It’s like creating a documentary about a subject and sharing it with them as you go.
Also, we’re letting the data tell us what’s really working. We have an opportunity by listening tools and data mining to decide which stories are really working and which stories people are really responding to. We really use the data to help tell the story. Ideally, we’re changing the way people consume media.
Watch the cast bios and a sneak peek of @SummerBreak below:
Follow @SummerBreak when it premieres on June 17.