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Reality Television

By nikeezy Mar 26, 2007 1494 Words
Reality Television


One of the most recent and freshest trends to come out of television is the phenomenon of "reality television". Spurred by trend setting programs like CBS's Survivor and MTV's The Real World, reality television was launched as a new genre. With such recent hits as Laguna Beach: The Real OC, Flavor of Love, and American Idol, reality television, as a genre and a staple of pop culture, has only begun to grow. In an analysis of various articles studied from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and, The Los Angeles Times within the last three months has confirmed a recent trend in reality television itself. The articles tend to state the popularity and lucrativeness of reality television and its continuing growth, with no downfall in sight.


According to a survey by, almost half of our nation's younger generation watches more reality television than last year. The average American television viewer only watches four to five shows on television regularly. Eighteen to twenty five year-olds – the target audience for much of the programming for reality television - watch close to four reality shows a week. Even people who were over the age of 55 were keeping up with at least two reality shows. This increase of viewership in reality television has shown that reality programming is strongly popular with a wide variety of ages. And with networks devoting their programming towards reality television (VH1's Celebreality block of programming; ABC's WifeSwap, Extreme Makeover, Dancing with the Stars; MTV's ever growing roster of reality shows, Fox's American Idol), it is easy to see that the popularity of reality television is an immediate trend in not only television, but in pop culture as well.


Even if you do not watch reality television, it is becoming increasingly hard to avoid the trend. When probing for articles in the journals mentioned, "reality television" yielded many results, some of which were even entirely devoted to a single reality show. The recent trend in the explosion of reality programming on television can be attributed to the viewers and fans of the shows demanding for more similar programming, and the networks, looking to make quick money, catering to what large audience of varying ages is asking for

With reality viewers ranging from pre-teen to seniors, they seem to all find something attractive about unscripted shows. For the participants of the show, it is obvious why they would get involved: a quick scheme to make money and gain fame. But for the fan of these shows it is a little harder to derive the reason for their fascination with these types of shows. Richard Verrier, a writer for the Los Angeles times, thinks it is because "RTV (reality television) is a form of therapy to escape our own version of reality" because when watching reality shows, we "live vicariously through the "characters" on the show. " Viewers become voyeurs into a seemingly private life that isn't their own, but because these so called "characters" are picked from a public community that we all belong to, they become easy to relate to which broadens our appeal for the show – "Most of the time, these people are not people we aim to be, but since they are ordinary, their nonfictional significance is more attainable. "

Preying on the voracious appetite for reality television that America craves, networks are turning voyeurs into everyone that can't escape the allure of "real life" that unscripted television continues to impart viewers with. In 2000, with the premier of Survivor, reality television was dismissed as a low-brow fare that would fade. The genre's vast appeal with audiences, as well as the low costs incurred, has caused it to burgeon into a key driver for production. Last year sitcoms and dramas increased activity by thirteen percent and sixteen percent respectively. A fifty three percent jump in reality programming activity illustrates television network's willingness to produce and deliver such shows .

Much of reality television's success, according to Emily Nelson of The Wall Street Journal, is in doing what sitcom's have done for years. "They provide mind-candy at the end of a long day for increasingly exhausted Americans. " There are no story lines to follow, or complicated plots to decipher. "Reality programming is filling the void of mindless entertainment, " says Lois Coleman, a Cincinnati researcher who studies human behavior in focus groups. Networks don't seem to mind this shift in programming though. While the reality shows have no secure retirement of reruns and syndication that sitcoms or dramas do, they offer quick cash. With production costs of about $800,000 for an hour, compared with roughly $1 million for a half-hour sitcom or about $2 million for a drama, television networks are looking to deliver more of this type of product that creates plenty of return for them .

But with all the reality television programming that is already showcased, networks are still doing more to give viewers a more complete "reality" experience. MTV, the networked that helped pioneer and push the reality boundary with shows like The Real World, and Laguna Beach: The Real OC are now taking reality television to the next step. Running of the enormous popularity of Laguna Beach, MTV plans to debut Virtual Laguna Beach, an online service in which fans of the program can engross themselves - or at least can immerse digitized, three-dimensional characters, called avatars, that they control - in virtual versions of the show's familiar seaside hangouts . ''You can not only watch TV, but now you can actually live it,'' Van Toffler, the president of the MTV Networks Music, Film and Logo Group, said in an interview . It is the first of three virtual worlds that MTV is releasing to huge fan anticipation, proving that reality television is gaining popularity, spilling into other media.

Even more proof to this media convergence, CBS is about to introduce an interactive cell phone game based on the hit show "America's Next Top Model. " The reality show picks from qualified contestants, in which America can vote in which model they want to succeed. The cell phone game version features animated renderings of the TV show's actual contestants. Users can pick two models for the game, a favorite and least favorite, and control their virtual lives. Not only is this a good way for a network advertise for their shows, it can garner revenue as well for them.


What may be good for networks, but can make bad television, reality television has been a successful and important trend in television. It has found a way to connect its viewers on a level that they can relate to. While considered low-brow television, the genre is increasingly watched by many. With "reality's" popularity and attractiveness increasingly rising as well, television networks, are willing to push more programming within the genre. This relationship of the viewers demand and the networks willing to supply and cater to their customers is what will keep this trend in television to continue. But just as other trends come and go, reality television may, too, lose popularity – though it will be some time before that may happen.

Works Cited

1.Carmanica, Jon. "THE MONITOR; Seems this `New York' girl's really got it goin' on; It may be coarse, it may be brazen, but VH1's `I Love New York' puts earnestness back in the unscripted game." The Los Angeles Times. ( 14 Feb 2007) 2.Carter, Bill. "Changing the Channel." The New York Times. (14 Feb 2007) 3.Murphy, Kim. "The World; Reality TV squabble shines light on Britain's sore point; Race and class issues play out in living color on `Celebrity Big Brother,' where a quarrel turns into an international incident." The Los Angeles Times (11 Feb 2007) 4.Nelson, Emily. "Reality Bites TV Comedy --- New Unscripted Programs, Win Over Younger Viewers; Fast Money, Insecure Future." The Wall Street Journal (12 Feb 2007) 5.Sicklos, Richard. "Not in the Real World Anymore." The New York Times. (14 Feb 2007) 6.Stanley, Alessandra. "Reality Check for a Generation That Knows Best." The New York Times. ( 12 February 2007) 7.Verrier, Richard. "Reality check: Unscripted TV a hit for L.A. economy; Production of such programs jumped in 2006 as films and commercials declined." The Los Angeles Times (11 Feb 2007) 8.Vranika, Suzzane. "Creator of Show 'Blow Out' Weighs In on Reality Television." The Wall Street Journal. (14 Feb 2007) 9.Yuan, Li and Sarmad Ali. "Your own Next Top Model; TV show moves to cellphones; CBS gets revenues, Advertising, Fans pick Dresses and Makeup." The Wall Street Journal. (11 Feb 2007) 10.Miller, Martin. "Network patience (yes, it exists) pays off; Four sophomore series -- `Close to Home,' `Supernatural,' `Bones' and `How I Met Your Mother' -- benefit from careful nurturing." The Los Angeles Times. ( 12 Feb 2007)

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