On election eve when much of the country was transfixed by the nation's political races, a hastily assembled panel of school board candidates sat uneasily on stage at the Laguna Beach Women's Club.
Facing them was an audience of parents looking for answers. Not answers about academic standards, curriculum or school funding, but answers on where candidates stood on something far more divisive: MTV.
One after another, the candidates savaged the television network and its gauzy reality show "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County," blaming it for everything from presenting local youths as rich brats to making the city a potential target for sex predators.
Laguna Beach High School, where many of the students on the series attend class, recently ranked No. 1 for alcohol and drug abuse in Orange County, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey.
"It seems obvious to me that this ranking is the direct result of the image MTV has set for some of our kids," said candidate Jeff Elghanayan.
Some don't seem to mind the MTV show:
"When it was so hot this summer and people asked why, I said, 'It must be MTV.' That's how ridiculous it has become," said Candace Hurley, whose two sons have appeared on "Laguna Beach." "People now blame MTV for everything. They blame the crowds on MTV. It's not like there are bands of kids coming in. It's families taking photos in front of the Laguna Beach High School sign. Why is that such a negative?"
Hurley said disdain for MTV was approaching hysteria.
"I painted my house this summer and the rumor in the neighborhood was that MTV sent a stylist to pick out the colors. Some parents have called me a bad mother and no longer speak to me," she said. "Anywhere else, people seem to think of it as a show about high school kids for high school kids."
Her son Kelan became a cast member to promote his band. He now has a record contract with Sony, she said. "My son set out to not embarrass our family and show off his band," she said. "We feel lucky the show did what we hoped for."
Jim Conrad's daughter Lauren starred in the first season and later got her own spin-off series, "The Hills." His younger daughter, Breanna, is a cast member of this season's "Laguna Beach."
He said the school board's decision to bar MTV from the high school campus backfired.
"We wanted them to show school activities and present our kids in the best light. So without that, what is left? Parties, going out," he said. "I would say 80% of people here couldn't care less. They don't watch the show, they don't like it or hate it. I'm no rah-rah cheerleader for MTV, but it hasn't ruined our town."