A group of people are assembled, confined to a limited space, given strict rules to adhere to with cameras all over the place to monitor their every move. The idea is usually to compete each other out with only one contestant emerging as the winner. The fact that the contestants are all aware that they are being watched makes it something other than a reality TV show.
Reality TV shows are different from documentary television in that the focus is more on drama, personal conflict, competition and entertainment rather than educating viewers.
I recall when survivor first hit the screen, then came American Idol, Big Brother, Big Brother Africa and Big Brother Nigeria. All of these so-called reality TV shows have nothing spectacularly fascinating about them that is truly worth the hype. But these shows get so popular. The question remains, why all the fuss? What’s so special about reality TV shows that would make some people rather tune into some shows than watch a presidential debate?
Reality television is said to be a genre of television programming that documents supposedly unscripted real-life situations, and often features an otherwise unknown cast of individuals who are typically not professional actors, although in some few cases, celebrities may participate.
The genesis of reality TV
The first popular reality TV show was the 1991 Dutch series Nummer 28. The idea was to bring strangers together, monitor and record their real social interactions for a certain duration of time.
The success and popularity of Nummer 28 birthed more better packaged and publicised reality TV shows. In the late 1900s and early 2000, reality TV shows became a phenomenon with series like Survivor, Idols and Big brother. these new set of reality series achieved tremendous global success.
But before the 1900s reality TV show boom, there were other genres that predated the reality television age that can also be classified as reality TV. Candid camera which is a hidden camera show was produced as far back as 1948. Another talent hunt show ‘The Original Amateur Hour’ was also aired by various TV channels in 1948. The Up Series (1964), The Dating Game (1965) and court shows featuring real-life cases such as ‘The People’s Court’ in 1981. These shows were in essence more real than the modern day so-called reality TV shows.
With the advancement in technology, most of the parent reality TV shows like Survivor, Idol and Big Brother gained more public viewership naturally spawning numerous continental and local versions in different countries of the world.
Presently the popularity of the international versions of these reality shows is taking a shift more to the local and continental versions. We now have American Idol, Canadian Idol, Big Brother America, Big Brother Africa, Big Brother Nigeria and a whole lot of others.
So why the so much hype about reality TV shows?
Over the years, reality television has grown into global franchises, evolving fast with the advent of advanced digital television, broadcasting techniques and more lucrative marketing opportunities. People are daily becoming enchanted to this TV genre.
1. People love to watch others and get entertained
Here is one aspect that reality TV seems to be doing so well, entertainment. Some times people just don’t want to venture too far from the world they already know. The usual melodrama of soap-operas appears too surreal. Reality shows are not far from what is already known.
2. The hype about celebrities
Appearing on reality TV makes an instant celebrity. Most people are sentimental about celebrity figures very much that it could lead to an obsession. They just want to know how romantic celebrities can be in real life.
3. Increased use of the social media
I remember sitting down for two complete hours watching house mates do nothing but sleep in one of the episodes of Big Brother Africa, just to see what the show was about that got everyone talking. Guess what, I wouldn’t have known about the show if I had not read people discussing about it on Facebook.
4. The love for gossip
People love to talk about others. Humans are constantly in search of what to gossip about. Reality TV shows presents just that which we all crave for, what to talk about for the next few months.
5. The quest to learn something new
To some viewers, they watch, learn from the play and try to relate the story to their personal life experiences. Such viewers usually get emotionally attached to a contestant they feel is very much like them.
6. The prize
Its natural for people to get very excited seeing someone they know on reality TV. Others just love to place bets and gamble. All the same, its a form of entertainment.
Are reality TV shows in the real sense ‘real’?
Critics have often objected the the realness of the actual reality TV shows. The reasons are not very farfetched.
1. The genre’s title ‘reality’ TV seems inappropriate. It most times involves a premeditated scripting and influences from behind the scene to create dramatic situations with predetermined end outcomes.
2. In many cases, the shows are competitive hence not insolent of political skirmishes among the cast crew and also from the producers behind the scene.
3. In any case, a contestant having prior knowledge that he is being watched would not be his real self anymore. The show may be unscripted but its still more of acting than reality.
4. The voting patterns of viewers is another unfair influence on the realness of the show. Its never necessarily the best contestant but the best actor who gets the most votes. Other factors beyond what goes on in the house also greatly influence the voting patterns.
5. Lastly, the deliberate confinement and conditioning of people to certain rules is not the way to bring out their real inner-self. They only try to adapt to the conditions, living by the rules to avoid eviction, nothing more. So what’s real in this?
Most popular parent reality TV shows
Many reality shows on TV have spawned up with high popularity and many others have had their public approval ratings diminish. Some recorded good success while others metamorphosed to something different or the original network could not keep up. Here are some of the most popular among them that are still running with appreciable viewership.
Vanderpump Rules (Bravo)
“Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” (VH1)
“The Real Housewives” Bravo