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Many people believe that reality television began with the inception of Survivor in 2000. While certainly the hit television show from Mark Burnett has created the format of and paved the way for today’s brand of reality television, it was far from the first. Back in 1948 a little show called Candid Camera burst onto the scene and with it, the birth of reality TV. Allen Funt’s beauty of a show, with the memorable tag line “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”, was an early version of Punk’d. The show originally aired on the radio in 1947 under the name Candid Microphone. Host and producer Funt pulled pranks on the unsuspecting, all while a camera caught the hilarious moments for America’s viewing pleasure.
Allen Funt's Candid Microphone
Over the years, reality television has evolved into what we see today. Reality television takes on many forms and concepts:
Contests and competitions (American Idol, Top Chef)
Documentary-style in which people are followed (The Kardashians, The Real Housewives)
Court television (Judge Judy, People’s Court)
Renovation or home improvement (Holmes on Homes, Kitchen Nightmares)
Self-improvement or makeover (The Biggest Loser, What Not to Wear)
Social experiments (Big Brother, The Real World)
Paranormal (Ghost Hunters, Finding Bigfoot)
Hidden camera (Off Their Rockers, Punk’d)
Hoaxes (The Joe Schmo Show, My Big Fat Obnoxious Wedding)
While reality television can be entertaining to watch or can be infuriating when the contestant you really love doesn’t win, it isn’t without issues. Reality television is plagued with a number of problems that were not originally intended back in 1948.
It’s not real
The most obvious problem with reality television is that in reality, most people are not that exciting. A celebrity’s day is not filled with crazy antics. A group of people living in a house together in a social experiment may not interact in an entertaining manner. Writers, producers and editors all work hard to make these realities as unreal as possible. Writers formulate situations for characters to be in that make their lives interesting enough for television. Hulk Hogan admitted in his 2009 autobiography that his two reality shows Hogan Knows Best and Brooke Knows Best included several scripted scenes that normally would not occur in real life. Contestants on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have come out stating that the shows are scripted.
Promo for Storage Wars
Harsh allegations have recently surfaced about one popular show, Storage Wars. Former star Dave Hester filed a lawsuit in December 2012 against the show stating, among other things, that items found in storage lockers are planted by producers. This is evident in merely watching the show, in which the bidders often find high cost items such as antiques, collectibles and even cash in the storage lockers they win. The things that bidders find in the lockers makes viewers question if the person that rented the storage locker prior to it being put on the auction block had a wad of cash in the locker itself, why did they let the rent go so past due that the locker was confiscated?
Others working on or appearing on reality television shows have complained of the editing that is done after the filming of the show, which leaves some contestants or stars appearing in a negative light or giving the audience a misleading chronology of the events on the show.
Editing on television shows plays a large part in the “reality” that viewers see. Clips from one day of filming are merged with another day of filming. A contestant may say something and a reaction by another contestant is shown when that person wasn’t part of the conversation and may not have been in the room to begin with. Scenes are spliced together in exciting manners to ensure the maximum amount of drama and cliffhangers that keep viewers returning.
Another common complaint about reality television shows is wardrobe staging, in which reality show contestants are not allowed to wear their own clothing on the show, but must wear clothing that is picked out by producers. Survivor, a show where girls run around in barely-there bikinis, has had multiple complaints of this nature. Reality show stars or contestants may also not be allowed to wear clothing containing certain brand names or logos.
Changing the formula
Sometimes a reality show starts out well enough, but then for whatever reason the formula is changed. Tabatha Takes Over on Bravo stars famed hairstylist Tabatha Coffey. Feisty and outspoken, Tabatha visits hair salons that are in danger of going under, identifies and fixes problems within the salon and does a makeover of the salon itself. Starting in season 4, however, the format of the show changed. Instead of having Tabatha limit her abilities to salons, she now takes over nightclubs, hotels, restaurants and even a yogurt shop. The problem with that is Tabatha is a hairstylist. That’s what she knows and should stick with. One has to question what authority she brings to the table when telling a nightclub owner how to change their business for the better.
Duck Dynasty also has succumbed to both this and “It’s Not Real”. In the beginning, Duck Dynasty was a sweet show about some fun owners of a duck call company. Watching their lives unfold on television was a treat every week, but the most recent season has shown viewers that even these seemingly real people can sell out to entirely scripted episodes.
By changing the formula of a winning concept, the show itself changes dynamic. It risks losing appeal to loyal viewers as well as risking its own destruction. There’s no point in changing a show’s formula and concept if it is working.
Too many of the same
How many restaurant saving, restoration, washed-up celebrity, desperate housewives dating singing chefs chasing ghosts in swamps in Alaska shows do we need? Producers seem to get obsessed with a type of show and they can’t get enough of it. If a show becomes successful, they add fifteen more exactly like it but less well-done to the tired mix, numbing the minds of the viewing audience. Putting a badly organized show on the air just because another of its kind was a hit not only is a bad business decision, but it undermines the intelligence of the viewing audience. Originality goes a long way, even in the world of reality television.
A real commercial
At some point in the reality television world, someone determined that it would be smart to have not only commercials during the television show breaks, but to also bring commercials into the show itself. Product placement has become the norm for reality television, sometimes to the point of painful. The Biggest Loser is one of the biggest (no pun intended) offenders of product placement. Several times in an episode, a scripted scene usually involving one of the trainers talking to the contestants is shown. The contestant searches for a way to help them better obtain and maintain their weight loss and either their trainer or another contestant has the answer. Use Ziploc baggies to portion out food. Chew Wrigley Extra Desserts gum to satisfy a craving. Subway has low-cal sandwiches which allows one to diet properly while eating out.
The problem with product placement is that it makes the entire show feel like one long commercial. These mini-commercials whisk viewers out of the moment of the show. It also makes one question if these scenes are scripted, what else in the show is scripted? It appears that this is just one more money-making scheme. The little men behind the curtain should be content with all the money they are already making and leave commercials out of the television shows. In a day and age when we have DVRs and the right to choose not to watch commercials, we shouldn’t be forced to watch commercials during the actual television show.
Paying the undeserving
What some viewers may not realize, or tend to purposely forget, is that a lot of reality stars are being paid for being on television. When a reality star says that they may lose their business if their next deal doesn’t go right, it may create tension on the television screen, but truly the star is in no danger of losing their business since their income is well-supplemented by the television station. If they lose their business, they lose their show and the producers of a hit show are not about to let that happen.
Most stars of reality television shows are highly paid to do nothing and be nothing. The Kardashians are a prime example of this, yet Americans continue to line their pocketbooks with a disgusting amount of cash. In a recent episode of Kourtney and Kim take Miami, the two Kardashian sisters that are famous for doing nothing decided it was a great idea to have their other sister, Khloe, sniff their panties to determine who had a better odor down under. That’s right – they had a smell-off. Should they really get paid for such nonsense?
Dumbing down with our new American idols
Speaking of the Kardashian clan, stupidity on television seems to be the new fad. The stupider someone is, the more people will watch. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a prime example of this. Thousands of Americans enthusiastically watch Mama fatten up and dumb down her children week after week without so much as a peep as to why this isn’t right. Sixteen and Pregnant airs the idocracy of teenagers becoming pregnant and has become so acceptable that teenagers become pregnant on purpose to try to get on the show. These types of shows have just as stupid precursors, such as Jersey Shore teaching everyone you can get paid to drink to excess and have sex with a lot of different people – and that’s considered an acceptable way to make a living.
While all reality television isn’t horrible, some shows have sunk to new lows. Unless viewers take the upper hand and refuse to let themselves get sucked into the nonsense, we will continue to be ripped off by producers of un-reality television.
- Chef Gordon Ramsay restores hope to reality television
The Kitchen Nightmares reality television host finally does what others should have done long before him