The cable network has given us the opportunity of watching reality TV shows like Temptation Island, Fear Factor, etc. These shows broke the monotony of traditional scripted shows and started to represent real-life situations or documentary event of common man instead of professional actors.
It seems, presently people are hooked on to it like children to chocolate or ice cream. Watching reality shows has become a favorite pastime and a source of fun and enjoyment for many.
The Origins of Reality TV
It has always been a little unclear as to how reality TV came into existence. That’s more or less because of how people defined reality TV. Here we take a look at the three biggest TV shows that came to be included in this category.
Considered to be the oldest example of reality TV, Candid Camera first aired in 1948. It changed the history of TV shows, earning rave reviews and exponential popularity.
The Original Amateur Hour
The first competitive reality TV show, The Original Amateur Hour aired in 1948. The show was famous for launching the career of Frank Sinatra.
An American Family
This show was originally intended to be a documentary about an upper-middle class family (the Loud family), but quickly achieved dramatic controversies when the parents filed for divorce and a son became the first person ever to admit that he’s gay on TV.
The two very basic types (there are many more, which have been discussed below) of reality TV, one of which is where non-actors, or normal citizens, undergo a task or an ordeal, like Candid Camera or Original Amateur Hour. The second is a show, styled like a dramatized documentary, reveals the working of non-actors or citizens, like An American Family. Reality TV did get a lot more categories later on, but their basic influence can be said to lie in the above two.
Evolution of the Video Camera
You’d see a small reality TV show every once in a while till 1988. The video camera was going through its own technological advances till this time, becoming smaller and increasingly portable. This started opening up the options for reality TV, including the style ‘Cinéma vérité’, which means truthful cinema, used first in the TV show COPS. This, and a few other types, became the new way to shoot documentaries, as well as new reality TV shows, that required surreptitiousness and high mobility.
Reality TV’s Exploding Popularity
You now have three big contributing factors to the boom of reality TV. One is the decreasing size of the video camera, or camcorder. The second is the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. This was a major event that motivated quite a few producers to shift their focus to reality TV, because of the low requirement of scripting and low production costs. The third is audience appeal. The audience’s appetite had already been whetted with shows like Candid Camera, Truth or Consequence, You Asked For It, COPS (1989) etc. They welcomed more reality TV, mostly for its depiction of regular people being either humiliated or excessively rewarded.
The first reality show to use soundtrack music and narration by the characters themselves (within the reality TV premises).
Definitely one of the biggest TV shows ever since it started, Survivor kept the audience entertained with its unique format that employed social Darwinism, for a long time.
Big Brother has one of the most number of versions played in a lot of countries, and has been embroiled in controversies in almost all of them. The most famous case of this being the racism controversy in Celebrity Big Brother 2007.
Another TV show that caught the world by storm is American Idol. It has achieved top ratings for eight consecutive years.
Types of Reality TV
This includes reality TV shows like The Real World that make the contestants live outside their comfort zone. Then there are the shows that incorporate celebrities or professionals, like L.A. Ink and The Simple Life.
Competitive Game Shows
Examples of this type of reality TV include America’s Got Talent, American Gladiators, The Apprentice, The Bachelor, etc.
Linked to the oldest reality TV show, hidden camera reality TV has come a long way from bulky cameras hiding in vans with tinted windows. You have shows like Punk’d, Scare Tactics, etc.
This includes changing the appearances of either the people, their homes, or a particular piece of property like a car, as in Extreme Makeover, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Pimp My Ride, etc.
Here, the show’s producers carry out some form of uncomfortable environment experimentation, like in Wife Swap.
Though reality television is facing criticism these days, the craze for it will remain because of its non-traditional claim of being non-scripted yet intensely dramatic.