Reality TV – Is it Real?

2 min

Whether or not you are a fan of reality or one of its many detractors, one question has continually come up when it comes to this format of television programming: Is it real? This question may be pertinent to some but to others it is more of a waste of time, something by which sycophants can deride a genre of television programming that they either don’t understand, can’t compete with, or outright dislike for whatever reason.

Still, the question about whether reality TV is actually real or partially scripted, may come into play for a number of reasons. For producers or filmmakers who are looking into the advantages of reality TV, the payoff may be greater than they expect, or it could cost them a great deal in time, effort, and money if they don’t fully understand the core basis of reality TV.

People have an appetite for dysfunction

According to Dr. Drew, of his own television fame being a counselor to people on live and recorded television, the average television viewer has a hunger for watching other people’s dysfunction. While this article isn’t going to delve into the basic reasons for this, the main point to make is that audience members enjoy watching other people make fools of themselves, fight amongst themselves, and getting into and out of dramatic situations.

The core of reality TV programming since its early days of ‘The Real World’ on MTV has been about conflict. What many within the industry learned through that program and in the years since, from a number of former participants on the show, was that producers ratcheted up the conflict factor, creating situations that were anything but ‘real’ in order to drive conflict between the reality TV ‘stars.’

The partially scripted theory

While the producers of ‘The Real World’ have long denied any manipulation, the constant parade of participants who have basically leveled to same claims have to be taken into account. Other shows have since become popular and successful in the reality TV world, most notable Survivor and American Idol. While these two shows are starkly different, they share the same basic premise which is pitting people against each other, all in the hopes of winning the final prize.

On Survivor, what the audience sees is not necessarily what actually happens on the set. With cameras rolling for many, many hours a day, almost every day on that set, the editors end up having an enormous amount of footage to choose from when it comes to putting together the one hour a week that will be broadcast (figuring in commercials, then it’s more in line with forty to forty-five minutes of programming time).

This means that editors can cut and splice content and arrange it into whatever order they see fit, to create the most conflict or to create that illusion of conflict to whet the viewing audience’s appetite.

Another point to make about reality TV is that many past participants also claimed that producers placed them and others in situations that were not ‘real.’ They were put in situations that they would never normally find themselves in in the real world, and although their actions and reactions may be real, it raises the inevitable question about whether reality TV is actually real or not.

The bottom line is that although there are no scripts that the participants read, not all reality is letting the cameras roll and waiting for whatever to happen to happen. The producers do need to be involved in order to build that conflict that the audience so desperately seems to crave.


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Rick Davis


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