2WHAT PEOPLE HAVE SAID ABOUT REALITY TV “You can’t do that. You can’t do it, no you can’t. This is awful.”(Reaction Big Brother creator John de Mol got from his colleague when he first mentioned the format)“Whose was the sick mind which infected all the others? Because this does seem to be an infectious disease – worse than BSE”(German TV critic)As quoted in the forward of Peter Bazalgette’s book “Billion Dollar Game” which tells the story of Big Brother, Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Survivor
3WHAT IS REALITY TV?Here we see the “bush-tucker challenge” from the hit reality TV show “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”, where contestants eat spiders and grubs. The format is one of the UK’s most successful shows and has attracted as many as 16 million viewers – for the final in 2004 when Kerry McFadden was crowned Queen of the Jungle.The show puts minor celebrities through a series of humiliating tasks but often leads to lucrative deals and comebacks for has-been celebrities.
4Reality TV is defined as a television programme that presents apparently unscripted dramatic or humorous situations and features ordinary people instead of actorsThe key word is “apparently”.Reality TV is known to manipulate the viewer through casting and editing.The people chosen are rarely ordinary and producers of Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent were heavily criticised for the way they treated Susan Boyle, a forty eight year old woman with learning difficulties, who was the “star” of the 2009 season.
5EXPLOITATION?SuBo as she came to be known collapsed after losing the final of Britain’s Got Talent. Had reality TV gone too far in its endless search for human fodder to fuel the money machine? She also became internationally famous after clips of her performance became a smash hit on YouTube
6LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR? This is Jade Goody, Big Brother’s most notorious contestant, who sadly died in 2009, aged 27Goody became a tabloid hate figure in 2002 and then again in 2007 over allegations of racism.
7SWAMPING THE SCHEDULEIn the 90s – especially in the US – the hit shows were sophisticated comedies like Seinfeld, which were syndicated all over the world and made a fortune for its creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David – and NBC, the network that broadcast it.
8REALITY KILLS SCRIPTED DRAMA? In the US, reality TV has been blamed for killing scripted drama on network TVIn the 90s, NBC brought us Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier and ER, the must see-shows of the decadeIn 2001 NBC’s dominance was broken by the CBS reality hit SurvivorThe networks realised they could get high ratings without paying writers or actors, ushering in the reality TV era.In 2009, NBC did not place a single scripted drama in the top 20Many see this as short-termism on behalf of the industry – will anyone want to watch repeats of Survivor in 2020, yet we can still enjoy scripted comedy made 50 years agoTaken from Mitchell Bard’s article “Is Scripted TV Dead” -
9THE REALITY TV WINNERSThe winners today are men like John de Mol, creator of Big Brother, Simon Cowell and companies like RDF, which created TV formats like Supernanny and Wife Swap
10LIFE IMITATES ART?The 1998 Hollywood Movie “The Truman show” tells the story of a man whose life is lived on TV (without him realising)The following year EdTV was released, telling the story of a man whose life is lived on TV to save an ailing TV channelReviewers questioned whether such voyeurism would be possible
11THE CAM GIRLSThe success of the “cam girls” on the internet in the late 1990s proved that voyeurism was already a popular form of entertainment.The most famous of all of these was Jennicam, which showed the daily life of Jennifer Ringley, a student from Pennsylvania
12THE GRAND-DADDY OF REALITY TV Candid Camera pioneered the use of “real people” as opposed to actors. Obviously the set ups were highly constructed and tightly scripted – just like the reality shows of today
13BEADLE’S ABOUTBeadle’s About was a hugely successful hidden camera show (like Candid Camera) in Britain in the 1980s. It was frequently attacked for cruelty and tastelessness, just like modern reality TV.
14Another key influence is the British documentary series Seven Up Another key influence is the British documentary series Seven Up. The first programme appeared in 1964 and took a group of seven year olds – the idea was to return every 7 years. We last saw them in 2005 aged 49!Although modern reality TV is primarily created to entertain, its use of “real people” and “fly on the wall” techniques derives from documentary – even though documentary has traditionally been a much more “highbrow” form.
15Also important were early “fly on the wall” documentaries like “An American Family” in the US and “The Family in the UK”. They can be seen as the direct ancestors of hit shows like “The Osbournes”. Like all the best reality shows they made the families into stars
16It’s also worth looking at early talent shows like “The Gong Show” which made fools of members of the public. The show was very similar to Simon Cowell’s hit shows like X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent
17The true ancestors of modern reality TV are thought to be the real life police show Cops and MTV’s The Real World, a show about a group of young people living together. Many see this as the forerunner to Big Brother.
18Also worth looking at is the British makeover show Changing Rooms, where members of the public were asked to decorate their neighbours homes, often with disastrous resultsThe makeover show is a key element of reality TV and plays on the fantasy that TV can transform our lives. It’s legacy lives on in such shows as Extreme Makeover, The Swan, How to Look Ten Years Younger, How to Look Good Naked, The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fat Camp etc etc
19THE GOLDEN AGE OF REALITY TV – 2000 to PRESENT DAY In the 21st century reality TV has dominated the schedules with programmes like American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, Big Brother and The Apprentice enjoying unprecedented global success
20REALITY TOPS THE RATINGS Reality TV saw an explosion in popularity globally starting in the early 2000sTwo series – Survivor and American Idol have been the top rated series on American TV for since 2001The Apprentice and Big Brother have also had a massive global impact, being syndicated world wideOther huge hits have been Britain’s (or America’s) Got Talent, Wife Swap, X Factor, The Osbournes, The Simple Life, Supernanny, Extreme Makeover, The Bachelor, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here
21THE MAIN REALITY “GENRES” Talent ShowsMakeoversCelebrity showsFactual reality TelevisionLife swapsSocial experiments (such as Big Brother)Talent Shows: X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing, Pop Idol, Fame Academy, The ApprenticeMakeovers: How to Look Good Naked, Extreme Makeover, Changing Rooms, How to Look Ten Years YoungerCelebrity Shows: I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Celebrity Big Brother, Celebrity Rehab, The Osbournes, Katie and PeterFactual Reality Shows: Supernanny, Brat Camp, Jamie’s School DinnersLife Swaps: Wife Swap, The Simple Life, Secret MillionaireSocial Experiments: Big Brother, Shattered, Castaway, 1900 House, That’ll Teach Em
22Reality TV is all about the edit – hours of footage are shot and then edited into carefully constructed packages. Without digital editing packages like avid or final cut pro this would be impossible – reality TV is a product of technological change
23BRAINWASHINGReality TV works largely on stereotypes – the pretty one, the gay one, the stupid oneThe producers hold endless auditions to find the people to “cast” the show with.Any complexity of character is removed in editing. This is true in all TV, but especially so in reality shows that are produced purely for entertainment valueThere is very little that is real in reality TV; the contestants may not be scripted as such, but their actions are presented to the viewer in tightly edited and scripted packages that are designed to manipulate the audienceBut because it is sold as “reality” we quickly lose our critical faculties
24Reality shows are also often streamed live on the internet Reality shows are also often streamed live on the internet. This allows viewers to become totally immersed and creates the false sense of intimacy that reality TV thrives upon. This year there was an outcry from hardcore fans when C4 cut the Big Brother live feedMany of the scandals that have erupted around the UK version of Big Brother have their origins in the footage shown on the live stream – such as the first scandal around the cheating “Nasty Nick” and “Fight Night” in 2005 when viewers called the police after housemates started fighting
25SMS/PHONE VOTINGThe structure of modern reality TV has been influenced by technology - in particular the popularity of SMS text messaging, that took off in the early years of the 21st centuryBetween 2000 and 2005, Big Brother gathered 80 million votes
26SCANDALIn 2007 The X Factor's chiefs escaped a fine for a vote scam that left 1.3million fans out of pocket. The show's phone provider could have been fined up to £250,000 but was instead reprimanded by phone watchdogs after overcharging viewers £200,000 in an interactive phone blunder
27BAD TASTE TV?Five’s reality show The Farm caused a national outcry in 2004 when it showed David Beckham’s former lover Rebecca Loos, gathering pig semen
28FAMOUS FOR BEING FAMOUS In the UK, being famous via a reality show is seen as the ideal career path for young people.A survey in 2005 said that 63% of girls aged would rather be glamour models than take up a profession such as teaching.
29REALITY TV, CELEBRITY CULTURE AND THE CLASS SYSTEM Reality TV is one of the main driving forces behind modern celebrity cultureSeeing ordinary members of the public given instant fame fuels the powerful myth “anyone can do it” that is part and parcel of Western culture.There is the illusion that TV fame can transcend class and power structuresp61 Understanding Celebrity by Graeme Turner
31REALITY TV = £££For ageing celebrities or faded stars, reality TV = the chance of a big pay cheque. Thanks to celebrity inflation, stars like David Hasslehoff can ask for as much as £50,000 for a day’s workIn addition to the appearance fee, there are magazine deals and often lucrative advertising contractsModern reality TV is a big industry and the big reality shows become household brands, like Pepsi or Nike
32FAKERYIn 2007, the TV industry was rocked by a series of scandals of “fakery”, the most outrageous of which involved the show “Born Survivor”. A “bear” was revealed to be a man in a costume and cast serious doubts over the credibility of the host, survival expert Bear Grylls. The scandals made TV executives nervous of heavily constructed programmes and created a backlash against the over formatted programming of recent years.
33THE JAMIE EFFECTTV chef Jamie Oliver has used this celebrity status and formatted “reality” style programmes to force the UK government to increase spending on school meals in Jamie’s School Dinners and also to try and improve the nation’s diets in his recent Ministry of Food series.
34SUMMARYReality TV is a strange hybrid of documentary and entertainmentModern reality TV as a genre relies heavily on technology – digital editing, small cameras, SMS voting and the internetReality TV is about stereotypes and conflictReality TV is primarily an entertainment genre but can be used to do good – eg Jamie Oliver’s programmes