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Are Reality Shows Real? - Facts & Infographic

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Reality History

A number of shows experimented with unscripted episodes or situations as early as the 1940s

In 1948, Candid Camera became a nationwide hit by featuring pranks on ordinary people.

In the 1950s popular game shows such as Beat the Clock and You Bet Your Life and reality shows featuring interviews such as Truth or Consequences became popular. In 1954, the first Miss America Pageant was telecast live. By 1959, America has grown to have over 50 million TV sets (from 1 million in 1949). The radio series Nightwatch was broadcast between 1951 and 1955. It recorded the activities of Culver City, California police officers and inspired reality television shows.

In 1964, the series Seven Up!, was broadcast in the United Kingdom and featured the lives of some seven-year-olds. Every seven years, a sequel documented the life of the same people and came to be titled 7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, etc. The series had no specific plot. Later, in the 1966 film Chelsea Girls, Andy Warhol featured some of his acquaintances but without a scripted plot. In 2007, the Radio Times Guide to Film said that the film was "to blame for reality television.

The first of the modern reality show was the 12-part series An American Family aired in 1973. The Family was filmed in the UK in 1974. Other reality shows that emerged in the 1970s were The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, Living in the Past, and The Gong Show.

Though Real People started to be aired in 1979, it became a great hit in the early 1980s. Canada first aired Thrill Of A Lifetime in 1982. The 1988 Writers Guild of America strike led to the conceptualization of the series called COPS. The Oprah Winfrey Show first aired in 1986. Its popularity would soar in times to come.

The 1992 show The Real World became the precursor of Big Brother (2000) and 1997 series Expedition Robinson inspired Survivor (2000). Fear Factor was launched in 2001; the very popular American Idol was launched in the 2002. Fear Factor was launched in 2001 and Jersey Shore in 2009.

By 2010, networks across the world, in almost all the countries were broadcasting reality shows.


Faking Reality

Are reality shows real? While most do not have a line-to-line script, the following factors have led most people to believe that the shows are not altogether real.

Frankenbiting – The use of footage or conversation excerpts out of context, or edited in a way that they create an altogether new story. A number of reality shows such as Bling Date are known to have used Frankenbiting to spruce up dull footages and indulge in sensationalism.

Outrageous for popularity – Any fame is good fame. That is what many participants of reality shows believe. The participants in many shows such as Laguna Beach have been accused of being outrageous for the sake of fame and to get people talking about them.

Creating conflict – Reality TV show editors and producers have often been accused of creating conflict by teaming up incompatible people or even by creating dissent. Big Brother producers regularly face such charges of creating conflict where none originally exists.

Dressing it up – While reality shows are supposed to be ‘as is’ a number of shows do not allow participants to wear their own wardrobe. Makeovers and clothing have become a very important part of talent shows. Susan Boyle’s makeover on Britain’s Got Talent added to the popularity of the show.

Out of context – Extreme editing and misleading portrayal of statements, actions, and expressions are accusations reality shows face even by celebrity actors. Hell’s Kitchen was mired in such accusations.


Rooting For Reality Television

An MSNBC survey revealed that four out of five television watchers in America think that there are too many reality shows being aired on the TV. This has, however, not taken the sheen off popular reality shows. In 2012, the popular reality show American Idol – Season 11, set a new record by garnering 132 million votes for the finale. Britain’s Got Talent Series 6 in 2012 had an average viewership of 10.17 million viewers. The finale was watched by over 12 million people. MasterChef Australia All-Stars which aired in 2012 ha an average viewership of 1.25 million.

A constant dose of reality TV shows may not be good for young adults, though. In February 2013, CNN reported that the UK version of "The Apprentice" depicted 85 aggressive acts an hour while "American Idol" showed 57 aggressive acts an hour according to a report called "Does Reality Backbite? Physical, Verbal, and Relational Aggression in Reality Television Programs".


Bringing In The Monies

Reality TV shows are popular not only with the audience but also with producers since they cost about a fourth as much as scripted shows to produce. Reality shows also represent big money for the actors and stars involved. Donald Trump is believed to have received $50,000 for each episode of the first season of The Apprentice and over $100,000 for each episode in Season 2. The stars of Teen Mom are believed to earn about $60,000 - $65,000 for each episode that features them. Kate Gosselin is reported to have earned $2,499,000 from her reality show, Jon & Kate Plus 8. Following his appearance on the reality show Top Gear, Simon Cowell was reported to pay an income tax of over £21.7 million per year pegging the estimate of his taxable income at over £54.25 million annually. The Real Housewives of Orange County stars Vicki Gunvalson is believed to have earned $450,000 a season, Tamra Barney $350,000, Gretchen Rossi $300,000, Alexis Bellino $200,000 and Heather Dubrow $30,000. The 2013 American Idol judges are likely to take home $54 million. The producers and judges earn a lot more than he contestants. The top earning American Idol of 2012 is Kelly Clarkson with earnings of over $8 million.


Is Reality Television Still Popular?

Responding to a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center, television watchers have overwhelmingly started to believe that reality television shows have started to take a dip for the worse. Over 63% respondents to the survey believed that reality shows had changed for the worse while about 22% said that there has not been much significant difference. Only about 8% thought that the shows had gotten better over time.

In September 2010, The New York Times reported the results of a poll by TiVo Inc. According to the poll, most television viewers are tired of reality television shows. Over 40% viewers think that reality is an overdone genre. Despite being tired, viewers still tuned in regularly. 15 out of the top 20 top rated programs still belonged to the reality genre.

The results of a poll by Yahoo (published in March 2012) threw up some surprising statistics. When asked if they are tired of reality shows or if they want to see more, over 94% respondents to the poll said they are tired of watching reality TV and would not like to watch any more shows.

In a December 2012 survey conducted by Today.com, over 72% women and 60% men who watch TV said that they tune into reality television because they are bored. 46% women and 26% men also said they were curious about the lives of the rich and the famous. According to a survey from Girl Scouts Research Institute, girls who regularly tune in to reality TV suffer from a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their lives.


Most Voted Reality Shows Of America

According to the IMDB, the most voted reality shows of American television are –

  • American Idol (2002 - present)

  • Jersey Shore (2009 - 2012)

  • Man Vs Wild (2006 - 2011)

  • Survivor (2000 - present)

  • America's Next Top Model (2003 - present)

  • Jackass (2000 - 2002)

  • Hell's Kitchen (2005 - present)

  • The Amazing Race (2001 - present)

  • So You Think You Can Dance (2005 - present)

  • Kenny vs. Spenny (2003 - 2010)


Best-loved Catchphrases of Reality Television

Show: Candid Camera

Phrase: Smile, you’re on Candid Camera


Show: The Weakest Link

Phrase: You are the weakest link. Good bye.


Show: Survivor

Phrase: The tribe has spoken


Show: The Apprentice

Phrase: You're fired


Show: American Idol

Phrase: You're going to Hollywood


Show: America’s Next Top Model

Phrase: You are no longer in the running toward becoming America’s next top model


Show: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Phrase: Is that your final answer?


Show: Biggest Loser

Phrase: It’s time to cut the fat


Show: The Cut

Phrase: You’re out of style


Show: Fear Factor

Phrase: Evidently fear is not a factor for you

Are Reality Shows Real.

FAQs and Answers on History and Geography

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