Is reality TV a fad?

I swear. I’m not doing a holier than thou sort of “I don’t even own a TV” sort of move. But, I never got into any reality TV. When it started, I thought for sure it would be gone in a few years.

But, probably ten or so years in (yes, I know that there was stuff before that, but it certainly took off in the past decade) it seems to have done nothing but grown and grown.

So, is it just a really long lived fad, or is it here to stay? Will there be similar shows in five years? Ten?

Probably here to stay. The economics of TV makes reality shows* cheap and highly profitable.

*Really a misnomer – most of the popular “reality shows” are really game shows.

I’m hoping that it’s sort of a reaction to the sort of high production value TV that’s started up over the last decade. If so, then I can only hope it doesn’t end.

Variety shows used to be really popular but unless you count late night talk shows there aren’t many of them left. If people just get sick of watching them, or, actually, they no longer bring in the proper advertising demographics, then you’ll probably see them go away for the most part. Given that they’re relatively inexpensive to produce this might not happen for a long time.


If you consider the “fad” starting with Survivor, then it’s been here for almost 10 years. But formats are changing. There are very few “challenge” type shows (like Survivor, Amazing Race, etc) left around which used to be huge when the crazy took off. Now we have shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing With the Stars, that seem to combine older talent shows with modern reality tv.

I think about where it started. Was it shows like “Cops” and “The Real World” that got the ball rolling, (what else before those could be considered “reality TV”)? I would say it’s here to stay as long as TV’s around. I mean the internet’s made it so people can offer, (and get) “reality” for free. Most of it sucks, but it’s cheap and people will watch.

Looking back on it, I think it’s much akin to fighting games. A niche genre that had a few early attempts by various parties (Karate Champ, Violence Fight, Street Smart, Hippodrome) but otherwise was a novelty no company was willing to bet the ranch on. Then the one huge, revolutionary, groundbreaking title exploded onto the scene and changed the industry forever (Street Fighter 2), in the process setting the standards that have since been largely etched in stone (quarter circle, half circle, and broken quarter circle motions for specials, life bars, different buttons for varying strength attacks). Then came the inevitable deluge (Fighter’s History, Time Killers, Bloodstorm, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage, Darkstalkers, Power Instinct, etc. etc…man, that was a wild time). After a long weeding-out process, the survivors (Street Fighter, Tekken, Soul Calibur, and a few others) became the icons of the genre, with vastly more sophisticated later titles (esp. Guilty Gear) now vying for a piece of the pie.

So really nothing out the ordinary here. Shows like Cops, and Rescue 911 set the stage, Survivor set off the explosion, a whole bunch of new shows cropped up, many of them didn’t make it (ugh…Skating With Celebrities…what were they thinking?), but the ones that did now have a strong following, and with the advantage of low cost, they’re going to be around for a while.

Incidentally, “game show” is a perfectly legitimate type of reality TV. There’s no conflict here. Who was it who spelled out the main subtypes…the others were fishbowl, and…two others. I’ll have to do a search for it later (I have dinner now).

There are styles that come and go in TV. We had Westerns, Variety TV, Sitcoms, etc and most lasted awhle.

Reality TV will die off eventually but as others have noted it’s darn cheap and something has to be number one so, who cares.

For example, if I put on “Joe Sitcom” and it is number one, what if I cancel it? So what? Something else will just be number one. And if the replacement series costs only 10% of the price that is a heck of a lot of extra profit.

Prices for ad revenue aren’t based on raw viewers. They are combined with rank and demographics.

Finally if you’re not a Nielsen family you have no say in the matter at all.

Whether I watch TV or not matters not on iota, 'cause I am not a Nielsen family. If no one knows what I AM watching, they don’t know if I’ve STOPPED watching it.

I’ve gone into detail on other posts how complex Nielsen really is but the long and short is, TV doesn’t reflect people’s tastes, it reflect the ability to sell ads.

It’s changed so much due to de-regulation. In the old days, going back to radio you HAD to do so much programing in different modes, to keep your broadcast license.

Commercials were also an “embarassment” of sorts to radio and early TV. This meant your station was so unprofitable you had to either run public announcments or take on low level advertisers.

Orsen Wells, in his biography said that if it wasn’t for the Presidents of CBS and NBC having over inflated egos that he would’ve never got a chance. The networks had extra time and each president wanted to prove he could put on better high brow programs. So Wells was hired to make these shows, as he put it, “at quite a loss.”

So they didn’t sell at all but they had value because these prestigue programs elevated the image. Back then radio ratings were actual polls. Remember Nielsen isn’t an accurte poll at all, and in their defense Nielsen Ratings say they don’t ever claim to be scientific. Nielsen states it’s ratings don’t measure what the general population watches but rather what a given population who’s likely to buy a product watches.

So why reality TV? It’s cheap, it reflects the tastes of those likely to buy things they see on TV and gives people the illusion that anyone can be a star if they are lucky enough

It wasn’t me, but I bet I can guess:

Game Show (Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, etc…)
Challenge Elimination (Survivor, Big Brother, Amazing Race, Real World/Road Rules Challenge, etc…)
Dating Game (Love Connection, The Bachelor, Rock of Love, etc…)
Talent Show (American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, etc…)
“Documentary” (The Osbournes, Sober House, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Brooke Knows Best, etc…)

The irony quotes acknowledge that while the documentary premise is to just follow someone around 24/7 and see what happens, much of what happens on such reality shows is staged.

The fad started with “The Real World” on MTV back in 1992, so its been 17 years.

No, it really didn’t in that one isolated show is not a fad. Where were all the Real World clones in the 90s? There were none. But as soon as Survivor’s first ratings came back, countless clones went into production. That’s what a fad is.

Well big brother was a lot like Real World, but a game. This wiki page states that The Real World WAS, prehaps, a clone of a Dutch TV show; “Number 28”.

The Real World provides a nice example of why the genre might just be imploding. If you look at that first season in New York a long time ago, they really did just put a handful of real people in an apartment and watched them. Sure, they were vetted, but they weren’t stereotypes. I’m sure the footage was editted, but it didn’t appear staged.

Now (correct me if I’m wrong, because I see the footage on The Soup, which is obviously selective footage), it appears that they pick young, attractive and volatile alcoholics and tell them to drink, and preferably fight and/or have sex. The footage couldn’t appear more staged and it always looks like they’re just vying to be the most outrageous so that they can get their own spinoff show which will be even more staged and outrageous. And Real World appears to be one of the better shows compared to The Hills or I Love NY which are so obviously staged.

So, the documentary style was watchable ten or fifteen years ago, and now I just can’t even imagine watching it. How much longer can this sustain an audience before their credulity of the “reality” is strained and people don’t watch anymore? Does the audience not care if it is partially staged or even completely staged?

schadenfeudian: supernanny, wife swap, dog whisperer, boiling points, jackass
renovation: HGTV, extreme home makeover, while you were out, this old house
and as for the dearth of late night talk shows? conan, jimmy kimmel, jimmy fallon, letterman, leno, craig ferguson, carson daly, wanda sykes, not to mention the cable shows like bill maher, chelsea handler, and Mo’Nique… i say we’ve got plenty.

I’d say that the first Reality TV show was Candid Camera which IIRC started not long after the debut of TV in the late 1940’s and has its roots in hidden microphone shows on radio.

The first modern reality TV show was An American Family which was on PBS in the early 70’s and took place here in Santa Barbara. It was just a cameras following around a “typical” family as they went about their life. It was notable because the father’s extramarital affair was revealed and one of the sons came out as gay.

Reality TV will be around for a long time but it will continue to evolve. Even with million dollar prizes, they are still way cheaper to make than sitcoms or dramas. My cousin is a fairly successful TV and movie writer and he and his colleagues understandably hate the genre because it is putting them out of business.

Consider this: While reality shows are indeed staged, so too is reality itself nowadays. 20 years ago, the only people who saw you were the ones you interacted with daily. Now you can project a persona onto Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Your potential viewership is multiplied a thousandfold. And the natural result is for the persona to be outrageous so as to gain more hits.

The internet is causing TV behavior and IRL behavior to converge. As a result, no, the audience doesn’t care that it’s staged. They’re too busy taking notes.

Where else can TV take us? How does the Television industry survive now that they’ve opened ‘Pandora’s box’? What will replace reality if it is just a fad? Anyone ever think it’s television itself that needs to evolve to offer something that can’t be duplicated. The internet’s made “being famous” into being simply anyone with a web-cam and something to show/tell people. I blame Bob Sagate.

I think I saw a version of that in the 80s. Looking back it seems to be Punk’d before there was Punk’d.

Which makes me think we need a “Gotcha!” category. For stuff like Candid Camera, Punk’D, Sasha Baron Cohen’s shtick.

No, it’s not. It’s actually one of the highest forms of television. Kind of the ultimate expression of television.

People want to know what other people are like and reality TV allows for that. Sure you can have ‘The Real World’, and ‘Flavor of Love’, but reality TV is it’s strongest during, ‘Whale Wars’, ‘Ice Road Truckers’, ‘Alpha Company’, and other shows that show people doing their real jobs.

Reality TV has the most educational value of any format on television, bar none.

“Whale Wars”? I mean, I can’t deny the entertainment value I might be missing out on by trying NOT to watch, but that’s where I see the problem; It’s just a rip off of “Deadliest Catch”… and it supports idiot’s with a boat. I’m just surprised you would mention that show over it’s, (IMHO), superior predecessor. I guess you did say “Kind of the ultimate expression of television”. If there’s educational value to it’s controversy, it still seems like I’m supporting the crew wether or not I or anyone else agree, by watching.

It’s just that not everyone SHOULD get attention, and we had a firmer grasp on that, before this reality stuff.