The Simple Life
The Simple Life is a reality television series broadcast on the Fox network depicting two wealthy young socialites, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, as they struggle with everyday tasks, including manual labor and low-paying jobs such as doing farm work, serving meals in fast-food restaurants, and working as camp counselors. The first season of The Simple Life (2003–2004) was set in Altus (Franklin County), a small town in the Arkansas Valley known for its vineyards.
Fox executives wanted to return to the heyday of the sitcom, when such low-concept shows as Green Acres originally aired. The idea for the show involved doing Green Acres as a reality show. Hilton was chosen because of her popularity with young people. Richie was chosen because of the chemistry between her and longtime friend Hilton. According to executive producer Jonathan Murray, the Leding family of Altus was chosen as the pair’s host family because “[w]e wanted a completely functional family, so much the contrast of what a lot of us have here in Los Angeles.”
For the show, Hilton and Richie agreed to give up luxuries such as their cell phones and credit cards and move in with the Leding family, ostensibly to get a taste of a more down-to-earth lifestyle. The Ledings existed in complete contrast to Hilton and Richie. Stable and self-reliant, they tolerated the socialites, garnering most of the viewers’ sympathies while Hilton and Richie tried to adapt to a completely new lifestyle. But Hilton and Richie tended to fail spectacularly at everything “normal” they attempted and ultimately were fired from every job they had. The pair’s lack of work ethic and disregard for societal conventions was distressing to the Ledings and led to much of the tension in the show, yet the Ledings acted as a sort of moral center for the pair, attempting to ground them in reality. The show’s producers maintain that it was not intended to be “mean-spirited,” though Hilton and Richie come off as laughingstocks frequently due to editing and certain exchanges, such as the infamous “What is Walmart? Do they sell wall stuff?” conversation, which Hilton later claimed was staged.
The show was a surprise success, drawing thirteen million viewers with the first episode, broadcast on December 2, 2003. During the course of the eight-episode season, Fox added a reunion show and two additional episodes. The show continued for five seasons (moving to the E! network after the third), each set in different locales and circumstances. Its success led Fox World to create several remakes and similar shows all over the world, including La Vie Rurale in Quebec, which featured different cast members but of a similar social status as Hilton and Richie. Estonian, French, Belgian, Uruguayan, and Turkish versions followed.
The show launched the dubious careers of Hilton and Richie, which have included roles in a handful of “B” movies and guest-starring roles on several television shows, including Veronica Mars and The O.C., and several music videos, as well as music recordings. The show set into motion an avalanche of publicity seeking and scandals, for which Hilton and Richie are best known and which have led to similar reality shows such as This is Paris, focusing more on Hilton’s personal life.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Altus hoped to receive a new fire station for hosting the reality show. What the town got instead was a small cash settlement of $15,000 and a free copy of the first season of The Simple Life on DVD for each household—about 450 copies.
For additional information:
George, Jason. “Get Real” Chicago Tribune. February 8, 2007.
“The Simple Life.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0362153/ (accessed January 24, 2023).
C. L. Bledsoe
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