Reality television

In the summer holiday we were asked to think at an idea of production for the core module. So my initial idea was to make a talk show, which is a subgenre of reality television.

Reality television is a genre of television programming that usually presents unscripted situation, funny or dramatic, and features ordinary people rather than stars.  Even if this genre existed since the early years of television, it started to become a great success around 1999 – 2000 with  TV series  such as Big Brother and Survivor.

The reality television frequently portrays a modified and a highly influenced form of reality. Usually, the participants of such shows are placed in exotic locations, and are also involved in abnormal situations in order to attract audience viewers. In fact, what we see in this kind of shows it is most like an illusion of the reality, because the speech of the participants it is manipulated, and there are used many directions and post – production editing techniques.

“The granddaddy of the reality TV genre”, as it was called, is Allen Funt’s hidden camera: Candid Camera show, made in 1948. This show was designed to caught unexpected reactions of ordinary people to pranks. After it’s great success, it began to appear different kind of shows that meant to show the reality.

In the 1950s it began to appear new subgenres based on competitions, stunts, games and practical jokes, such as: Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, Miss America, Beat the Clock, Truth or Consequences, You Bet Your Life and more other.

Between 1960s and 1970s  started to appear reality shows in the modern sense, which had a new effect, that of turning ordinary people into celebrities at least for a while. The first show based on this concept was: the 1973 PBS series – An American Family, which showed a nuclear family going through a divorce. Other examples of modern reality television shows were: The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show, which all featured participant who agree to sacrifice some of their dignity and privacy in order to be televised.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a direct link to what we currently understand today as a reality  television  show. COPS, which first appeared in 1989, showed police officers on duty apprehending criminals.  Then, the series Nummer 28 introduced the concept of putting together a bunch of strangers for a long period of time. In the same time there began to appear some stylistic conventions  that have become since then standard in the reality television shows: heavy use of soundtrack music, after the fact “conffesionals” recorded by the cast members and used as narration parts etc.

The TV show Expedition Robinson, which was later produced in many countries as Survivor, introduced the idea of competition and elimination until only one winner remained. Another concept that appeared in that period was brought by the series Changing rooms. This was the first reality show whit a self improvement of makeover team, because it showed couples redecorating each others house.

Big Brother and Survivor series from 2000, marked an explosion of global popularity of the reality television.   They have topped the US television ratings for several ocasions.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks this type of shows started to lose their viewers, and in the same time it began a saturation of reality shows coming in such a short while. For example, Big Brother, Pop Stars, Temptation Island, Boot Camp, Survivor and The Mole debuted in the same night on different networks.  In 2001 the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences added the Reality genre to the Emmy awards, with three categories over the years: Outstanding Reality Program, Outstanding Reality-Competition Program and  Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program.

Moreover in 2007, according to the Learning and Skills Council, one in seven UK teenagers hopes to gain fame by appearing on reality television.

Subgenres of reality television: documentary – style ( special living environments, celebrities,  professional activities), competition/ game shows ( dating based competition, job search, sports), self improvement/ makeover, renovation, social experiment,  dating shows, talk shows, hidden cameras, supernatural and paranormal, hoaxes.

Reality television also had a strong impact amongst people because it was the first time when on a TV show where presented situations that were considered taboo in some cultures, as for example male and female contestant living together. Also this type of television was more authentic and more engaging than the scripted dramas. People were attracted to watch them because there was no thing such as predictability.

On the other hand, some commentators have said that “reality television” is an inappropriate description for some of the shows. In competition based programs such as Big Brother and Survivor the producers design a controlled environment, where they can manage and control all the day – to – day activities. The producers carefully select the participant, they make the scenario and include certain challenges and events in order to stimulate particular behaviours and conflicts.

There are also some misleading premise. For example the first winner of the series America’s Next Top Model claimed that the grand prize that she received was much smaller than what she was told during the show. Moreover, during the first season of A shot of love with Tila Tequila, there were rumours that the star was not only heterosexual but she already had a boyfriend. The winner of the competition claims that after the show he never say Tila and that he couldn’t get at least her phone number.

Despite all this rumours and concerns regarding reality television, Geoff King argues in his book, Spectacle of the Real: From Hollywood to Reality TV and Beyond: even though the contestants are in a fabricated setting and the situation has been set up for a certain outcome, as in real love shows such as The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, these contestants still harbor feelings that make their participation in the show real to them. King says:

“I would argue, rather, that the simulated setting stimulates feeling, in part because the removal of the participants from their normal surroundings strips them to nothing but the space and affect of social interaction. The intimacy that arises out of this amplified situation is real – both for the participants and for the viewers.”

“Love, like television, must be performed to be real. The performance of love will generate the effects of love, just as the performance of reality will generate reality effects.”

I made this research using the next sources:


About adinavlad

Optimist, friendly,'ll get to know me :)

Posted on August 22, 2011, in 262 MC - Formats Production. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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