The casting call went out earlier this month: A show calling itself Real Hipsters of Vancouver was "looking for hip, fun, attractive people under 40," the Craigslist ad began. "Include your age, show us your personality. What makes you tick? What ticks you off?"
It sounded like it might be an elaborate practical joke, but the actors-turned-wannabe-television-producers behind Real Hipsters insist they're serious. And why not? In a popular culture that has crowned Zooey Deschanel an It girl, where Portlandia earns major real estate in the New Yorker and passionate essays circulate about Lena Dunham baring it all on Girls, is it such a stretch to imagine hipsterdom's impact on television migrating into the realm of non-fiction? Why not take the tried-and-true format of a reality-series hit like Real Housewives, populate it with younger, messier Hannah Horvath types and wait for the laid-back sparks to fly?
So what if hipsters don't actually watch television? (Or at least, won't admit to it?) Yet while the concept may make for a great pitch – and generate a ton of publicity (even Perez Hilton has taken note) –will it fly on TV? Do shaggy Pitchfork devotees in flannel make for compelling reality-TV viewing? And can the rookie company with the bright idea pull it off?
The best friends and now business partners behind this, Britt Irvin, 28, and Jesse Haddock, 26, were talking a few months ago about the staying power of reality TV. (Irvin says Jesse Haddock is not related to Chris Haddock, the Vancouver-based creator of Da Vinci's Inquest.) Both in the industry as actors since they were kids, they asked themselves which groups had not yet been tapped by reality TV. From their perch in East Vancouver, they didn't have to look far.
"Hipster [is] such a popular word these days," says Irvin who, when pressed, acknowledges that she and Haddock would be considered hipsters themselves. "[But] we hadn't had a show ... seeing the inside world of that. For the most part, reality shows are about wealthy people and their lives."
Setting up shop this month as Guilty Pleasure Television, they crafted the casting notice for a pilot, hoping to attract hipsters willing to share their "very interesting and eclectic lifestyles," as Irvin puts it.
"We're looking for young people that have maybe chosen to follow a dream other than necessarily graduating from college and doing a 9-to-5 [job], people that are paving their own way, whether it be their art or music or anything that says a lot about our generation and how people are doing things like that independently and on their own," says Irvin, who has acted since she was 10, with TV credits including Smallville, V and Little Men. (She also played Dana Plato in the made-for-TV movie Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes).
Given that no self-respecting hipster would actually apply the term to themselves, this might seem a futile exercise. But no, there are apparently people out there willing to wear the moniker proudly. Guilty Pleasure has received about 175 audition tapes – including some with potential.
Take the young woman with the model good looks who once made a good living, but gave it all up to live in a painted van, from which she conducts a homeopathy operation, mixing up potions and teas. Draped in fur (faux? the producers are unsure), she could be the quintessential Real Hipster.
What's in it for her and other potential cast members? It's a paying gig, for one. And while hipsters may shudder at the thought, it could be good self-promotion. "It might be a great platform to show off their music or their art or the clothes they design," says Irvin. "You know, show who they are."
Now don't be scrambling to reschedule your trip to Coachella or your artisanal butcher orientation evening just yet so you can hate-watch this thing. Real Hipsters is still just a rad dream. But it could possibly go somewhere, says veteran reality-TV producer David Paperny.
"It's a sign of the times, and I don't think it's a bad idea at all. Broadcasters are looking for big characters ... who live in a unique world," says Paperny, whose latest reality venture, Yukon Gold, premieres Wednesday on History. "The world of Vancouver hipsters could make a great backdrop to a TV series – especially in today's narcissistic culture. But where's the drama? What happens in every episode that captures audience attention? That's the tough part to figure out, I think."
Indeed. Scoff all you want, but part of the appeal of a show such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians is the strong reaction it provokes in viewers: disdain, schadenfreude, envy. Is it possible to get that worked up about a bunch of trust-fund kids playing board games ironically?
Further, there is the enormous challenge of actually making the series. Slick shows such as Survivor may make it look easy, but for every well-heeled spat caught on-camera, there have been many hours of shooting and editing. The writers of any such show must craft a narrative out of reams of often humdrum footage, coming up with a cliffhanger every week and advancing multiple storylines. Look down on it all you like, but there's an art to it. Those hipster-van concoctions may sound great on paper, but they need to be moulded – you might say manipulated – by the right hands to make must-see television.
Paperny suggests anyone embarking on a reality-TV production for the first time consider teaming up with experienced producers. "It's very common," he says. "That's how the newbies break in. And hey, listen, fresh ideas are what keep us veteran production companies alive."
That sort of collaboration may already be in the works. The buzz generated by the casting call has led to other TV types reaching out to Guilty Pleasure, including Canadian and U.S. broadcasters, according to Irvin.
The fact that this concept is even being floated may be proof that hipsterdom has jumped the shark. And/or if the show's a hit, it may, like Little Mosque on the Prairie, ultimately demonstrate that just because you initially attract attention with your punny title, it doesn't mean you can't achieve longevity. But long before it's really anything beyond a casting call, Real Hipsters has already become a flashpoint. "We're getting a lot of people sending angry e-mail, saying that they're worried it's another Real Housewives of Vancouver, and Real Housewives has ruined Vancouver," says Irvin. "We're just making a fun show. We're not trying to claim that we're changing the world in any way."