Cyber-Drama: MTV to Release "Virtual Laguna Beach"

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At MTV, reality has always been a moving target.

More than 16 years ago, the network heralded the era of Reality TV with The Real World. Three years ago, it pushed the genre further with Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, in which the mundane lives of a clique of pretty teenagers were presented in a way that appeared scripted and dramatic.

Now, the New York Times reports, the cable channel aims to push the boundaries of false reality one step further. This week, MTV will introduce Virtual Laguna Beach, an online service in which fans of the program can immerse themselves -- or at least can immerse digitized, three-dimensional characters, called avatars, that they control -- in cyber-versions of the show's familiar seaside hangouts.

The introduction of Virtual Laguna Beach is the first of three such worlds that MTV plans over the next year as part of an effort to steal a march on popular websites like MySpace and YouTube that have diverted the attention of the MTV audience.

The virtual Laguna Beach product will be making its debut two weeks after the abrupt dismissal of Tom Freston as chief executive of Viacom, MTV Networks' parent.

One reason given by Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone for axing Freston was that the company had not been aggressive enough in its online expansion.

Of the two other virtual worlds planned, VMTV is a music destination where visitors can club-hop among hip neighborhoods, buy music, watch videos, sing karaoke or even start their own bands. The third virtual destination, LogoWorld, an offshoot of Logo, the gay and lesbian cable channel, will be designed entirely by its participants.

Laguna Beach was an obvious choice for the first venture because it has a heavily female audience and because the show itself is such a blur of real, unreal and... well, sort of real. Fans know it's just layer upon layer of reality and fiction, and you can't tear yourself away.

Unfortunately, cast members from the television show's three seasons are not part of the planned online experience, although who knows -- maybe there will be some sort of Virtual Kristin Cavallari game released in the next year or two. We'd love to "play" that, if you know what we mean.

If you know what we mean, please tell us -- we have no idea. All we know is that Jason Wahler needs to get bitch slapped. What an ass.

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