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Real But Not Really: The Reality TV Genre
When Philo T. Farnsworth invented the electric television, he probably did not think that it would be used to show people eating bugs, finding husbands based on votes of viewers, or living on deserted islands. But that is exactly what you can see any given night on television now. This newest form of television programming fad is the reality television genre. Reality television is now on every station, every night, everywhere. The web page Fact Monster credits the beginning of reality TV as beginning around 2000 when a little reality game show called Who wants to be a Millionaire hit television screens. Millionaire saw the rebirth of game shows but also started the most popular television genre in years. Some say that MTV's The Real World was the first popular reality based show, but until Millionaire there were no popular reality shows on networks or primetime. Fact Monster cites is CBS' Survivor as the next show to that rose to TV stardom "boasting out-sized ratings, out-sized egos, out-sized personalities, and out-sized conflicts" where contestants are stranded on a desert island and kicked off one by one each week. As with anything that seems to get ratings, soon there were many knockoffs to follow. In 2001 reality TV continued to dominate the airwaves. Fact Monster refers to how "for the first time in eight years, NBC's "Must-See" Thursday night lineup did not reign in the ratings. Survivor II: The Australian Outback consistently beat Friends."
In their article "The Osbournes': Genre, Reality TV, and the Domestication of Rock 'n Roll" Rick Pieto and Kelly Otter define the reality TV genre, saying "that it is in essence one that finds its most valuable content in the unabashed display of individuals willing to be put on display as they part with their privacy, dignity, and composure. The genre is fairly clear, yet the formula in the shows varies so as to keep it fresh and increasingly bizarre to maintain its audience. Young women compete for a husband on camera by attempting to win the affection of a bachelor in six weeks; individuals compete for money by conquering their fears and consume live insects or allow themselves to be submerged under water for as long as possible; and couples test the strength of their relationships by subjecting themselves to the temptation of desirable strangers. Love, fear, and conflict provide the substance of a good story, and television producers have found a context in which drama is manufactured before a camera crew." So although a formal definition cannot be put on reality television, it can be said that reality television is about watching people in some form of real life. Not actual reality, because actual reality is boring, and in actual reality people aren't eating weird stuff or living on desert islands. But these shows are a form of "reality" suitable to make fairly interesting TV. When thinking about reality TV and its rise to popularity there are two shows that come to mind. The first is the creative Survivor. Survivor is an hour long show that came on in 2000 on Thursday nights at 9:00 PM on CBS and quickly became one of the networks highest rated shows. Hosted by Jeff Provst, the smug, good looking yet rugged host, the gimmick of Survivor is that 20 people are deserted in the wild in two groups that they call "tribes" and are forced to build shelter, provide food for themselves and then every week participate in a challenge to win immunity. Those who do not win immunity are then open to be voted off by the tribe. The final person to not get voted off receives 1 million dollars and fifteen minutes of fame. Another show that helped cement the reality TV genre is NBC's Fear Factor, a usually half hour show which shows on any night where a push in the adult 18-49 demographic is needed. Fear Factor is the show that comes to mind when thinking...
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