Reality Show Formats Transform with Trends

Photo courtesy of CBS Wikipedia

When thinking of reality television, one imagines shows such as “Survivor,” or inside looks into the lives of celebrities like those in “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” The people on these shows attain celebrity status as a result of being followed around with a camera during long periods of time. As audiences desire to see more fascinating and more dramatic "real life" situations unfold on screen, the genre of reality TV has evolved into more convoluted and high stakes productions. 

While it may look like these cameramen are nonchalantly following around Kim Kardashian, or those entrapped on an island vying for a million dollars, there is an “enhanced reality” factor that keeps these shows interesting and instills drama into the mundane reality of something unscripted. The idea of reality television is credited to the 1973 series “An American Family,” a PBS documentary series about the lives of ordinary families. This show acted as the inspiration behind the program many consider to be the first introduction of modern reality television: “The Real World,” which premiered on MTV in 1992.

“The Real World” follows a group of young adults usually in their 20s who auditioned and were chosen to live in a house together for several months. The show follows careers, relationships, politics, religion, coping with illness and other themes that the audience may experience in their daily lives.

MTV also created a spinoff series, “Road Rules,” where strangers travel in a mobile home, competing for prizes along the way.

In “Survivor,” contestants are stranded on an island and compete for $1 million in team challenges while living on a bare minimum income. Since its premiere in 1997, it has won numerous Primetime Emmy Awards, including those for its charismatic host, Jeff Probst. Game-based reality TV shows flooded the reality TV market with shows like “Big Brother,” “The Bachelor” and “The Amazing Race.” Besides the intriguing strategy aspect of the programming, reality game shows have other redeeming qualities.

“There’s just something interesting about watching a bunch of strangers in a house together," student Nick Perez said, about “Big Brother." "You get to see their personalities mix and clash. Plus there’s some really weird people that are funny.”

Observing the quality of life of different people and comparing them with the self offers a broader perspective. While this may have been the notion behind reality television of the past, today’s viewers have a longing for drama. This craving for drama has boosted the ratings of shows such as “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives.”

Psychology Today connects the dots by saying, “Reality TV allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame."

The writers and producers of these shows make it flow in such a way that one believes that this is their reality. It seems as though as time progresses, “reality” TV is becoming more like a fantasy. Perhaps this lends insight into why viewers love it so much.