Reality TV got it’s beginning back in the 1940’s in the US with the classic TV show Candid Camera. In the UK, the first show that could be classed as Reality TV was the Seven Up! series, beginning in 1964.
The first modern reality TV series which directly followed a ‘normal’ person or group through their day-to-day lives was An American Family from PBS. That was followed by the UK series Family, and the Australian series Sylvania Waters.
However – Reality TV in it’s current form can be traced to Australian reality tv, which premiered in 1992. That show puts a group of strangers into one house and let’s the viewing audience watch how they interact as they live together for a period of a couple of months. The Real World is now in it’s 17th season – showing the idea is still popular enough to keep making the series.
The next major event was Changing Rooms – a British home renovation series that inspired Trading Spaces and Extreme Home Makeover. Changing Rooms took two couples and had them live in each other’s house and renovate one room.
And then came Survivor – based on the Swedish show Expedition Robinson, Survivor pitted 16 strangers on a deserted island having to literally survive, and being eliminated one by one until the last one standing was the one true Survivor.
The major types of Reality TV now being aired are:
Documentary Style – With a fly-on-the-wall type camera setup and unscripted situations, Documentary style Reality TV provides the most ‘realistic’ of all the genres.
Special Living Environment – MTV’s The Real World is the epitome of this subcategory, with a group of people thrust into a single home and living together as they are filmed on a continuous basis
Celebrity Reality or Celebreality – where a celebrity or their family is used as the focus of the film; such shows would be The Osbournes, The Simple Life, and The Surreal Life.
Professional Activity – Where the show is filmed around a job or a business; Cops is the epitome of this series type.
Game Show – This type of Reality TV has contestants competing for a prize, normally cash, but sometimes it is a job or some other non-financial reward. This type of show normally uses popularity voting to eliminate contestant, either internally by other contestants or judges, or externally, by viewer polling.
Such shows include Big Brother, The Idol Series, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With The Stars, America’s Got Talent, Celebrity Duets, Last Comic Standing, and The Ultimate Fighter.
Groups within the Game Show category include:
Dating-based competition – such as The Bachelor
Job-based competition – The Apprentice, America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and Who Wants to be a Superhero.
Sports-based competition – The Big Break for golf, the Contender for Boxing, Ultimate Fighter for martial arts, and The Club for Aussie Rules football.
Self-Improvement or Makeover is the last major category for Reality TV shows. These shows do not have a defined prize normally other than something being improved or enhanced, even if that is the person’s own body.
Such shows would include Changing Rooms and the US Trading Spaces, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Biggest Loser for personal weight loss, Extreme Makeover for self-improvement, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy – showing style and grooming improvement.
Overall, Reality Television covers much more than I have listed here, this can only be considered a brief overview of the genre to give some background and to show just how popular the format has become. Reality TV has been around in one form or another since we had television, and it looks like it is definitely here to stay. So why not have fun with it?