Reality television

Reality television is a genre of television programming which generally is unscripted, documenting actual events over fiction, and featuring "ordinary" people over professional actors. Although the genre has been featured since early years of television, the current explosion of popularity began approximately in 2000. Critics of the genre have claimed that the term is a misnomer, as many reality tv shows put the participants in exotic locations and/or abnormal situations.


Origins of reality television

It's a well known fact that Big Brother, the most famous reality TV show, takes its name from the all-seeing authority figure in George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty Four. In the book, two-way television screens are fitted in every room, so that people's actions are monitored at all times. Another piece of Sci-Fi went even further in Predicting Reality TV; Nigel Kneale's Year of the Sex Olympics.

Though there were earlier precedents on radio and television, the first reality show in the modern sense was probably the PBS series An American Family; twelve parts were broadcast in the United States in 1973. The series dealt with a nuclear family going through a divorce.

An American Family was controversial in its time, excoriated by the press, particularly The New York Times, which published a piece criticizing the series and especially family member Lance Loud. The show was notably parodied by Albert Brooks' first film Real Life. The acclaimed 1976 film Network would also involve a reality tv series as one of its central plot points.

In 1974 a counterpart program, The Family, was made in the UK, following the working class Wilkins family of Reading. In 1992, Australia saw Sylvania Waters, about the nouveau riche Baker-Donaher family of Sydney. Both shows attracted their share of controversy.

Perhaps responsible for inspiring the recent interest in reality television is MTV's The Real World, one of the first reality programs to gain mainstream popularity. Among mainstream television networks, reality shows became a regular part of their programming in 2000 with the emergence of Big Brother in Europe and Survivor in the USA.

Due to the typically low production values associated with reality television (such as having only a handful of people on set, no set design, and not much post-production), this type of programming is very popular with television network executives wishing to maximize profits.

In 2005 reality television inspired a new genre of film with the creation of "The People's Movie" ( Similar to American Idol, people will be able to vote on elements of the plot, props, actors, etc. Unlike other participatory reality television shows, the movie's website randomly assigns participants the titles of Executive Producers or Producers who may be able share in movie revenues.

Types of reality TV

There are a number sub-categories in the genre known as reality television. In some, the viewer and the camera are passive observers following people going about their daily personal and professional activities--this style of filming is often referred to as "fly on the wall" or cinema verit. Other programs place contestants in competitions or artificial living environments. Often "plots" are constructed programs via editing and constructed situations, with the results resembling soap operas, hence the description docusoap.

Celebrity reality VS. ordinary reality

Scholars have suggested that reality television's success is due to its ability to place ordinary people in extraordinary situations. For example, on the ABC show The Bachelor, an eligible male dates a dozen women simultaneously, traveling on extraordinary dates to Napa Valley and Vail, Colorado. The converse of principle is a recently emerged subset, in which extraordinary people (celebrities) are surrounded by ordinary circumstances. Examples include The Anna Nicole Show, The Osbournes, and Newlyweds.

Hidden cameras

Another type of reality programming features hidden cameras rolling when random passers-by encounter a staged situation. The reactions of the passers-by can be funny to watch, but also revealing to the truths about the human condition. Allen Funt, an American pioneer in reality entertainment, led the way in the development of this type of show. He created Candid Microphone, which debuted on the ABC Radio Network in 1947, and the internationally successful Candid Camera, which first aired on television in 1953. He later produced a feature-length reality-film in 1970 entitled What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?. The film was a hidden-camera study of sexuality and mores of the time. For example, in one staged situation, passers-by encountered an inter-racial couple. Modern variants of this, particularly the British Trigger Happy TV, typically have humorous and/or bizarre situations such as actors in animal costumes pretending to copulate on a crowded sidewalk.

Game shows

In another type, the so-called "reality game shows", participants are filmed constantly in an enclosed environment while competing to win a prize - thus they follow more of a game show format and discussed more thoroughly in that article. The reality game show genre has become pervasive enough to be parodied by Spike TV with The Joe Schmo Show.

One difference that makes these more like "reality television" than other game shows is that the viewing public can play an active role in deciding the outcome. Usually this is by eliminating participants (disapproval voting) or voting for the most popular choice to win (with some other voting system). Some of the most popular reality-based game shows of this sort are Big Brother and American Idol. There is also a Spanish-language show taped for Latin American audiences, Protagonistas De La Musica, filmed in Miami by Telemundo USA.

Dating shows

Another form of reality TV is the relationship reality show, which follows contestants choosing the hand of a group of suitors. Over the course of the season, the suitors would be eliminated one by one until the end, when only the contestant and the final suitor remained. The Bachelor would also fall into this category.


Given that producers design the format of the show, as well as control the outcome of some of them, it is questionable how "real" reality television actually is. There is no doubt that producers are highly deliberate in their editing strategies, able to portray certain characters as heroes or villains, and guiding the drama through altered chronology and selective presentation of events. Likewise, shows use carefully designed scenarios, challenges, events, and settings to encourage particular behaviors and conflicts. Yet there has been no clear indication that these programs are fully scripted or "rigged," as with the 1950s television quiz show scandals.

Reality television has attracted criticism from those who feel that the pervasiveness of the genre on network television has come at the cost of scripted programming. There has also been concern expressed in the media by network executives that such programming is limited in its appeal for DVD reissue and syndication although it remains lucrative for short-term profits. By late 2004-early 2005, networks such as CNN were suggesting that the genre's popularity was waning in America, with long-running reality shows such as The Apprentice scoring lower-than-expected ratings, and many new shows such as Fox's Who's Your Daddy? (a controversial program in which a female contestant who had been adopted as a child had to guess the identity of her biological father) and CBS's The Will (about a real-life family squabbling over an inheritance) failing. On January 13, 2005, CNN reported ( that The Will had become one of a handful of series in television history to be cancelled after only one broadcast.

See also

External links

es:Telerrealidad fr:Tl ralit nl:Realitysoap pl:Reality show sv:Dokuspa tl:Reality television he:תוכניות מציאות


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