Reality television has been around since the dawn of the medium, as popular radio shows such as “This Is Your Life,” “Candid Microphone” and “The Original Amateur Hour” caught on in the 1950s. today, in what is known as the era of “advanced TV,” the genre remains popular and profitable. According to Nielsen, it accounts for half of all broadcast and cable programming and generates $6 billion in annual revenue. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t widely misunderstood.
Myth #1: Reality TV attracts the worst audiences.
From experience, reality TV production is a profession you might want to keep quiet when you show up at a Hollywood party. Critics blame the genre for “dumbing down America”. Gary Oldman once called reality TV a “museum of social decay.” Some claim exposure to this stuff can make you more self-centered: “See a Kardashian, be a Kardashian,” warned Pacific Standard, reporting on a study on the psychology of popular media culture linking reality TV to narcissism. .
Yet a 2015 study found that reality TV shows could stimulate the parts of our brains that handle empathy, in an experiment where subjects watched clips of embarrassing reality TV scenes and then lay down in bed. an fMRI machine. In a Girl Scout Research Institute study, 68% of girls surveyed said that watching reality TV made them feel like they “could accomplish anything in life,” and those who watched such shows were almost twice more likely to aspire to leadership than non-spectators. Reality television has also been a leader in presenting diverse experiences. A 2008 NAACP report found that non-white people were underrepresented in almost every sector of the television industry, except in reality television shows.
Myth #2: Reality TV staff members can’t handle scripted content.
Reality TV producers and on-camera talent rank at the bottom of the show business hierarchy. “Simpsons” writer Dana Gould summed up reality shows as “people who aren’t actors working with people who aren’t writers in an amateur production of nothing”. Former TV star George Clooney said: “Theatre actors despise film actors, who despise television actors. Thank goodness for reality shows, otherwise we wouldn’t have anyone to despise.
Yet people often cross this supposedly impassable gender gap. Bill Hader, co-creator of the acclaimed HBO drama “Barry,” started out as a production assistant on shows like “The Surreal Life.” Matt Hubbard worked on MTV’s “Fear,” a paranormal reality competition series, before winning an Emmy for his work on “30 Rock” and collecting writing and producing credits on hits like “Superstore” and “Parks and Recreation”. Sarah Gertrude Shapiro leveraged her experience as a producer on “The Bachelor” to create her “UnReal” scripted series.
Myth #3: Reality TV encourages fights over ratings.
Critics complain about the heated confrontations that permeate reality TV, especially in docu-soaps, where cameras follow groups of people as they go about their daily lives. Memorable incidents include Tom punching Jax in the face on “Vanderpump Rules” and Teresa Giudice’s legendary table flip during an argument on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” Entertainment Weekly called this a disturbing trend, saying physical explosions are often “central to a show’s plot”.
But physical altercations on camera are extraordinarily rare. A 2010 analysis by psychologists at Brigham Young University found that while reality TV shows contained higher levels of relationship aggression, they depicted “almost no physical abuse.” While producers encourage contestants to speak out openly and candidly, looking for conflict, most shows, from “Big Brother” to “Top Chef,” have very strict non-violence policies, and they eject cast members as soon as they display threatening behavior or take inappropriate action against the castmates.
Nowadays, audiences are embracing more user-friendly and harmonious reality content. Who would have thought that in these tumultuous times we would fall in love with ‘The Great British Baking Show’, grabbing tissues during an even more sentimental ‘Queer Eye’ or reveling in the sweet, silly fun of ‘The Masked Singer”?
Myth #4: Reality TV is totally wrong.
A recent ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit starred Will Ferrell and Cecily Strong as the reality stars who suddenly engage in an over-the-top shouting match just as their camera crew arrives to cover a reunion with old friends. . Mike Fleiss, the smash-hit creator of “The Bachelor,” claimed in 2012 that 70-80% of reality TV shows are “fake.”
Most of the time, however, the material is not manufactured. It is roughly planned and then edited for time, clarity and continuity. With show budgets tight, waiting for something to happen is not an option. Thus, production often begins with sketchy outlines. These lay out a simple program for the episode, with elements such as “Cast Meets for Dinner to Discuss Trip”.
With a few notable exceptions (such as “Big Brother”, which airs live even as the show is being edited for broadcast), most reality TV shows are first shot over a period of several days or weeks, then climbs. A month on the pitch could be reduced to 44 or 22 minutes of action. That way, audiences only see the reality stars in the essential moments — not during the hours spent peeling carrots or putting the kids to bed. Almost nothing is broadcast exactly as it fell into the lens, but the end product is usually more or less what happened.
Myth #5: Reality TV brought us President Donald Trump.
Did reality TV give Trump the boost he needed to get into the Oval Office? “Donald Trump had 14 seasons of carefully edited prime-time exposure to imprint a presidential impression on American minds,” say University at Buffalo psychologists, who have studied how viewers formed “parasocial bonds with the host of “The Apprentice”. NPR suggested that “it wouldn’t be surprising if he picked up on some TV tricks he applied to the 2016 campaign.”
But Trump was an established media figure decades before “The Apprentice,” starring in ads for McDonalds, Oreos and Pizza Hut; making countless cameos in film and television; participate in talk shows; and more. And Trump’s characterizations as a reality TV star don’t mention how his other reality projects, ‘Pageant Place’ and ‘Girls of Hedsor Hall,’ flopped, or how ratings for the Apprentice franchise plummeted at the time. over time. The Season 14 finale of “Celebrity Apprentice” drew 6.1 million viewers – a respectable number but a mere shadow of the 28.1 million seen in the first season’s finale. (In contrast, Trump drew 46.8 million viewers for his 2019 State of the Union address.)
Troy DeVolld, reality TV producer, is the author of “Reality TV” and “And Another Thing”.