The Characteristics of Reality TV

Outline the characteristics of Reality TV that call into question the realism of what is being portrayed. In your answer provide examples of the methods used by Reality TV shows to enhance the entertainment value at the expense of capturing reality.

Reality TV is a type of television programming which aims to show how ordinary people behave in everyday life, or in situations, often created by the programme makers, which are intended to represent everyday life ( Dictionary, 2019).The typical elements of what a reality tv show is made of: The producers are the ones in charge of every aspect of the programme as well as the ‘celebrities’ that are chosen to be in the show. Sometimes the producers intentionally choose characters that are ‘controversial’ or are likely to start some sort of drama within the group of people in the programme. Some of the things that would be left to the producers to decide invent rules and create situations that the ‘contestants’ would be put in, come up with tasks for the ‘contestants’ to do, they would award points / incentives. They also decide the winners, as well as present favourably or not and they also reward prizes/ rewards to those who do well in games or ‘challenges. Subjects, or ‘contestants’, often placed out of their ‘natural’ environment i.e. they are often placed in a reserved house, or in some cases they are put on an island and are left to their own devices.

There are many different ‘types’ of reality tv: documentary style, historical recreation, dating shows, law enforcement /courtroom /military type of shows, makeover, celebrity shows, hidden camera, game shows and talent shows. Some of these shows lean on actual reality when it comes to creating a storyline etc. The show that kicked started the reality tv obsession was ‘Survivor’. In the year 2000, CBS picked up a new reality show called ‘Survivor.’ “One of the reasons that this show even got aired was because there was a popularity amongst the reality type of shows in Europe, as well as the fact that the cost of drama shows, and sitcoms were rising, and they needed to produce another type of show that could balance out the costs of producing shows.” (Metz, 2007). No matter the reason, it ended up being one of the most successful TV moves in recent history. (Metz, 2007). The “Survivor” concept had been created by British producer Charlie Parsons almost a decade earlier, but it was Mark Burnett who brought it to American television. (Metz, 2007).

The reality TV segment is essentially based on completely unscripted programming that doesn’t employ actors and focuses on footage of real events or situations. (Metz, 2007). One of the most important aspects of reality TV is probably the way the show is shot. Whether the show takes place in a real setting with real people (much like a documentary), shoots in front of a live studio audience that participates in the program, or uses hidden surveillance, reality TV relies on the camera capturing everything as it happens. (Metz, 2007). One of the contestants from the first season of the show “Survivor” Stacey Stillman, filed a lawsuit against the then producer Mark Burnett and CBS. Stacey claimed that Burnett had purposefully rigged the show by convincing two other contestants, that were in the same show as her, into voting her off the show and the island. Stillman said that “Burnett wanted to keep 72-year-old contestant Rudy Boesch on the island to maintain an older viewing demographic.” (Metz, 2007.)

Ultimately, reality producers and editors have a lot of control over what happens on the show, just by the sheer fact that they’ve put the people together in certain situations, and they’re controlling what footage gets aired and what doesn’t (ScreenPrism). “They can also use a device known as ‘frankenbiting’ to edit together conversation excerpts or sound bites to create a whole new dialogue or conversation.” Footage that was captured days apart can come to appear as one scene or situation, so in a sense, the people who are running the show are tricking the audience as we are led to believe that the situations are real.

Reality shows typically don’t have scripts, but there is often a shooting script or an outline that details aspects of an episode or part of the show, for example, on shows like “The Real World” and “Big Brother,” which take place in confined quarters, the outline might give directions for which rooms or cameras to focus on. It might set up a specific challenge for the contestants on “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race.” (Metz, 2007). A shooting script could also create conflict between some of the participants (by pairing specific people as roommates or partners on “The Real World” or “Beauty and the Geek”). In extreme cases, a shooting script might include a storyboard — a visual representation of the concept that physically illustrates what will occur in a scene. (Metz, 2007).

Big Brother’s success was encouraged, from early on, by unusual levels of publicity. (Lawson, 2009). Most of the popular press, but the Sun, News of the World and Heat magazine, were willing to give headline coverage to the housemates and their departures, both from the show and the rules. (Lawson, 2009). This symbiotic relationship with a TV format had begun with soaps, the red-tops regularly splashing on plot-lines and cast-changes in EastEnders and Coronation Street – but the remarkable aspect of this stage of the game was that such attention was being given to a series transmitted on a minority network, Channel 4. (Lawson, 2009).

Despite the show ‘Survivor’ being the first reality tv show due to the elements of the show, it was in fact known that the show ‘Big Brother’ is the first actual reality tv show (Lawson, 2009). Some of the main concepts of the show included: There were 10 People in the house at the time the show was being aired, it was aired over a period of 9 weeks, it was known that there would be 1 Winner, and they would also be in the 1 House and the strictest rule was that there would be no contact with the outside world. There would be no privacy for any of the contestants. (Lawson, 2009). In total, there were 24 Cameras distributed around the house that the contestants were living in.

In the show, Big Brother there are set rules that occur and elements that the public knows as they come to know as they watch the programme. (Lawson, 2009). Each week, the people in the house vote for two people to be nominated for eviction. The people with the highest votes are put to the public vote, who then vote out who they want to leave. (Lawson, 2009). This continues up until the final week when 3 people are remaining, the public then vote for who they want to win. In addition, each week the group are set tasks on which they can gamble a percentage of their food budget. (Lawson, 2009). Big Brother was streamed live over the internet 24 hours a day, and had a show on every weekday. The eviction show was on Friday nights hosted by Davina McCall. (Lawson, 2009).

What many reality TV shows don’t want you to believe is that there are aspects of their shows that are scripted. (Metz, 2007) Even if drawn from spontaneous occurrences, reality TV still involves framing an episode or season around a narrative that makes the show interesting to watch. (Metz, 2007) In episodes of the show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the storylines have revolved around anything from celebrating Kris Jenner’s birthday to Khloe Kardashian being overworked, so you could go as far to say that there is no length that the family won’t go to advertise themselves and seemingly make money from their private problems being aired on the show. (Metz, 2007)

To be honest, nowadays, with the So, are some aspects of the show staged? Most signs point to that being the case. (ScreenPrism, 2011) That’s just how reality TV works, structure-wise. Is the actual content Keeping Up with the Kardashians authentic? Well, we should take their life events for what they are: their reality. (ScreenPrism, 2011) It would be silly to consider that Khloe may have only married Lamar for the show or that Kourtney and Scott broke up to create a storyline for the season. (ScreenPrism, 2011) What happens on the show, what happens in their actual lives, is based on reality. That reality may be scripted in a way that adheres to the reality TV format, but it is still the Kardashians’ own glamorous, must-watch reality. (ScreenPrism, 2011).

In conclusion, the whole concept of reality tv was, at one point, unable to reach the viewers at home. With the invention of such things as social media, as well as the internet nowadays, it has given the general public more of a reach into the ‘world’ of reality television. The fact that we can find out so easily on the internet how a reality tv is made, and what are the concepts behind it, means that that people can see if a show, or certain scenes are set up or if they are real.

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