What is a Reality Show? A television reality show features talent culled from the ranks of ‘ordinary’ people, not professionally trained actors. Reality show producers typically shoot hundreds of hours of footage per episode and use creative editing to create a narrative thread. Subjects of a reality show may be given some rudimentary directions offscreen, but the point is to allow the performers to act and react as normally as possible. A reality show is not to be confused with a documentary, in which the subjects are asked to ignore the cameras and behave naturally.
Many reality show producers encourage participants to play to the cameras as characters or use private taped conversations, called confessionals, as a form of narration. For many years, the television industry favored scripted television programs over the unpredictable and potentially litigious reality show form. An early reality show called Candid Camera, hosted by the unassuming Allen Funt, demonstrated that carefully edited clips of ordinary people reacting to contrived situations could be a ratings success.
Early game shows featuring contestants selected from the audience also provided moments of unscripted reality.
Groucho Marx’s game show You Bet Your Life! featured extended interviews with ordinary contestants, although Marx was thoroughly briefed on their backgrounds before the show started. Television shows during the 1960s and 1970s were usually scripted, with a cast of professional actors creating the characters. It was believed that a reality show featuring untrained actors working without a guiding script would be virtually unwatchable. There would be no way to create a satisfying storyline ending precisely after the allotted half-hour or hour running time of a typical scripted show.
The only network amenable to the idea of a true reality show in the 1970s was the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). A documentary called An American Family followed the real lives of the Loud family as they dealt with the parents’ impending divorce. During the late 1980s, a syndicated reality show called COPS began showing real policemen performing their duties as hand-held cameras rolled. The success of COPS spurred other production companies to create reality shows featuring real footage captured by amateur photographers, local news organizations, and police surveillance cameras.
This documentary form of reality show proved to be quite popular, especially among the younger demographics sought by advertisers. Meanwhile, another form of reality show began to take shape. Producers of The Real World recruited groups of twenty-somethings to live in a furnished apartment while cameras recorded every public moment of their lives together. The footage was carefully edited to create a satisfying arc of episodes, even if the participants appeared to be prodded into certain confrontations at times.
Shows like The Real World proved that television audiences could enjoy watching unscripted performers reacting to somewhat scripted circumstances. Perhaps the most groundbreaking reality show on American network television was CBS’ Survivor, debuting in 1999. Survivor featured teams of non-professional actors culled from thousands of audition tapes. Its success prompted network executives to greenlight a number of other shows employing a cast of camera-ready civilians and armies of creative editors.
Professional actors, directors, and writers have all voiced strong objections to this new form of reality programming, but a reality show is usually inexpensive to produce and consistently reaches its target audience. There is some evidence that the reality show format is losing some momentum, but finding successful replacement programming has also proven to be difficult. How Did Reality TV Begin? If you date the beginnings of realty TV to MTV’s The Real World or the CBS network’s Survivor, you’re off by several decades. There have been a variety of unscripted and live television shows that date back to the 1940s.
Among them, Candid Camera, which debuted in 1948, is often thought of as the first example of reality television, where people were unwittingly exposed to pranks or silly situations by host Allen Funt. Certain competition or game shows were also considered early versions of reality TV, as were live airings of programs like The Miss America Pageant and the Oscars. It doesn’t get more real than David Niven’s 1974 ad lib comments at the Academy Awards as a streaker crossed behind him on the stage. Most television historians don’t consider documentaries or lengthy news stories as reality TV, but again these evoked people’s interest greatly.
Anthropological studies of tribal groups, or watching the news “unfold” through camera coverage of events, like President Kennedy’s assassination, could be called the ancestors of modern reality TV. Another example of earlier than The Real World reality TV is the program Cops, which premiered in 1989. This is a few years before MTV would take on their ambitious Real World production, and showcased police officers in different cities making arrests or dealing with people behaving in criminal or dangerous fashion.
The program is the longest running of reality TV programs, and celebrated its 19th anniversary on the air in 2008. Yet many people do see the programs above mentioned as predecessors to programs like The Real World first airing in 1992, and then the reality TV boom that occurred in the 2000s with programs like Survivor and American Idol. What MTV’s program offered was a look at seven strangers all occupying house space together over a period of several months. MTV almost didn’t start this trend, and early in their conception of the series, they thought about having actors play out scripts that would seem close to reality.
Instead the show’s creators ultimately opted for providing viewers with video voyeurism, and an opportunity to see the “real lives” of several people. Of course, as with all “reality” TV, these real lives were shown when they were most tense or dramatic; editors went through hours of film to produce what was aired on television, since real life doesn’t always make for the most exciting television moments. The idea of combining competitive elements with reality TV came in the form of a Swedish TV program called Expedition: Robinson, which first aired in 1997.
This was three years prior to the first airing of Survivor and in fact, inspired Mark Burnett’s Survivor, who had to lease the concept from the creators of the Swedish show. Several other countries also produced similar programs, but the most famous of these in American television is undoubtedly Burnett’s variation of the Swedish show, which premiered in 2000. From Survivor other contest reality shows emerged, and some like American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and The Bachelor have been big hits.
In fact, many minor celebrities felt that contributing or being the subject of a reality show might bolster their careers, leading to “celebreality” shows like The Anna Nicole Show, The Osbournes and Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica. Other celebs sought to compete in programs similar to the Survivor or game show format leading to programs like Celebrity Fit Club, and Dancing with the Stars. At present, you’ll find a vast variety of reality shows on TV, but just how real is reality TV? Most combine some real moments, with a few fake ones. For instance, not all footage of competitions in Survivor features the contestants.
Some is recreated afterward to provide aerial shots. “Live” performances on American Idol and especially the judge’s comments may be prepared in advance when the judges watch dress rehearsals. Celebrities who allow camera access often write into their contracts the ability to veto any scene they don’t want shown. It’s semi-real, usually not scripted, but not exactly “real” in the sense of total access to all footage without editing for dramatic purpose. How Real Are Reality Shows? Do reality show writers ever invent stories that didn’t really happen? A lot of people ask the question, “How real is reality television? and, “Am I watching something true or is it being made up for me? or, “Are they being scripted to do what they’re doing? ” Different shows have different levels of manipulation. Some reality shows are very heavily manipulated by their producers to the point where they’ll pull a person aside and say, “Why don’t you go in there are get into a fight with Suzie, because it’ll make you a bigger TV star. ” Then they’ll go in there and get into a fight with Suzie, and you’ll see it on TV as a real fight. Some reality show producers do hardly anything at all, and they let events play out as they occur, and they try to tell you that story.
Some producers are in between the two, where they might suggest that it’d be better if you got in a fight with Suzie, or they might interview you and say, “How do you feel about Suzie? Are you feeling like she’s a bitch? ” They use the power of suggestion. There are lots of different ways to manipulate reality shows and people, and different shows do it to different levels. My policy is to stack the deck properly ahead of time: cast well, make your set pieces interesting and create problems for the cast. Simply making someone the boss for the day is enough, usually, to get things going.
You can do enough and not manipulate the cast so much that things start feeling fake. I feel like the home audience can smell it when a reality show feels fake. I feel like a reality show should do its best to deliver to the audience unpredictable real life as much as possible, because that’s actually why they want to see the show. If the audience feels like they’re watching something fake, they will reject you. The better reality shows are a lot less fake than the shows that are not so good. Are reality shows edited to create fake stories?
There is a phrase we have in television called ‘anything appeal’ and what that means is that you don’t want to find yourself in a situation of trying to tell a story that really didn’t happen. It is really hard to do that. If two people are best friends in a reality show it is hard. You can make them enemies through the editing. You can make it so that every time you see one girl say that she doesn’t like Brad, the producer can switch the name from Brad to Shu. The truth is that Shu is her best friend and you are digging a hole for yourself. It is the tangled web of deception. You can’t continue the fakeness of the story.
Generally, if you don’t know what you are doing then you don’t fake up a story. Are reality show contests ever rigged? It is against the law to defraud the American public and so it is against the law to present a contest to the American public and say that it is real when it is not, in the same way that it is illegal to tell someone that your little pill cures cancer. It is illegal to say a person answered this question correctly and they really didn’t, or this person just won over all these other contestants because they were the smartest one, when really they were the ones that were being coached.
All of that is illegal; it is fraud. In the entertainment business, when you are saying to the reality show audience, “This is a real contest and it is a fair contest and the winner won on skill and knowledge” they really better have done that, or else they could be sued or prosecuted. How do networks ensure reality show competitions are fair? In terms of game shows and reality shows, there are a lot of precautions taken to make sure they stay fair. There’s a division of the network, probably, called Standards and Practices.
They usually have a representative on the set that watches everything, that randomizes the questions that get asked. The producers want an entertaining show. The truth is that their incentive is not a fair competition. Their incentive is: “Was it fun? Was it interesting? Was there a tie that was broken at the last second? ” They would rather it was the most exciting possible outcome every time, which as we all know in real life is impossible. If you’re really a fair competition, you never know, somebody might run away with it in the first two minutes. You just have to live with that, the same as with a football game.
To answer the question, the reality show producers are pushing against their inner nature to make the show fair, and they’re usually held in check by outside forces, like a standards and practices department, or a lawyer on the set, or other things that are there put in place to protect everyone from an illegal or fraudulent contest. How is ‘reality’ manipulated on reality TV? I think it’s pretty much acknowledged that they’re telling, in general, a true story on a reality show, but there is a lot of creative leeway with the editing, with how you amp up the emotion of the story that you’re telling.
This is not just through simple things like music, but also through a careful choice of interview bites, even manipulation of interview bites to help tell the story. When we produce the reality shows, we don’t just let people sit in front of a camera and decide what they want to say and do, because it would be actually like taping real life, and it wouldn’t be interesting. What we do is we set up a situation where the people have to perform, basically. For example, we’ll give them a challenge that you must beat this other team at this game or else you will be eliminated tonight.
Once you set that up, you put things in motion. It’s something they wouldn’t do normally. If we just put cameras on people they wouldn’t compete normally in silly little games and obstacle courses and photo-shoots; they would just sit and talk to each other. Instead, we basically force the hand of action and we map out a path or an obstacle course of tasks for these people to accomplish, using all kinds of different methods: either they want to win money, or they want to be America’s next top model, or whatever it is – there is some reason to keep propelling things forward on a reality show.
Are Reality Shows Real or Fake? The answer to the question, are reality shows real, is obviously no. In the earlier times, when there were other forms of reality TV, these shows had some part that displayed real emotion and behavior. In the recent times, however, they are nothing but hyped series of episodes where the cast (even non-actors), is made to put up a drama and act funny for entertainment. Today there are many reality show ideas for talent hunts, game shows and stunt competitions, where all the contestants compete for money.
Take a look at some more facts on reality television and find out, are reality shows real. Are Reality Shows Scripted? It all began with the super hit series of Big Brother, where a bunch of not so famous celebrities had to live with strangers 24/7 and were cut off from the whole world. They competed against each other for money and the last survivor, won it all. Though these shows are not completely scripted, the backbone of the show is surely written. Once the rules and regulations to be followed are jotted down, the rest of the show is carried further by the characters in the show.
Because all reality shows have to start with introducing strangers to each other on the show sets, the drama is created when they react, make friends, don’t get along and sometimes even get in a fight. Today as the effects of reality TV are enormous on viewers, entertainment channels are coming up with many such shows. Some reality shows which involve videos about certain events like police chases, training academies, etc. are however not scripted, as they are 100% real.
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