Reality TV can be defined as, “a genre of television programming in which ‘real life’ people are followed in a situation or game.” But can we simply define this broad genre by one definition? Mark Andrejevic allegorically argues that reality TV is, “unscripted entertainment” but notes that there isn’t one defintion, “that would capture all the existing genres and forms of programming.”
As Brian mentioned in the lecture reality TV is nothing new-one of the most popular forms of this entertainment is also one of the oldest, “candid camera.” Originally created by Allen Funt, it showcased hidden video of people in unusual and strange situations. The bottom line is whether you like or dislike reality TV is the shows wouldn’t be popular if we didn’t watch them? Andrejevic puts it simply there is, “an appeal to the real.” (Andrejevic, M, 2004)
Su Holmes lists three definitions of reality TV.
1. Live video taping
2. Properly editing the taped material into a presentation that can be hyped as reality
3.Trying to mimic real life events by varying types of dramatic reconstruction.
However, of the three listed above only live video taping is actually considered reality. Even the live video taped footage is doctored and music and special affects added to enhance it. Very little is actually ‘real’ in reality TV. Su Holmes, in her book Understanding Reality TV poses the question; is the category reality TV too lose a term to be helpful in the definition of such a unique television term? Holmes allegorically explains that this act, “is part of a recurrent strategy intended to question the term in relation to its contested claim to ‘the real’… and indicates the degree to which critics are familiar, and indeed unfamiliar with the term itself.” (Holmes, 2004, p.4)
We live in a mass culture, the fact is more people read tabloids than broadsheets and reality TV is a fair reflection of this. From the networks point of view reality TV is cheap! Often dubbed ‘trash TV’ by many who criticise it, but for the networks point of view numbers generate money and that is far more important than the quality or social correctness of the programs. Conversely, Oullette believes reality TV is a refelction of everyday society. “The rise of reality TV is not just the result of the need for cheap, popular infotainment formats..but is also a reflection of the deep mediation of everyday life in a network society which creates a strong for audiences to mirror and play with identities and the uncertainties of everyday lif, thus intensifying out innate social curiosity.” (Oullette, L, 2009)
Big Brother for example aims to provide without any access to the outside world, TV, radio and newspaper by doing this it removes any possible contact between them and us and therefore makes it seem like they cannot see us. The show captures moments inside the house, through the social ubiquitousness of CCTV and home video technologies. Jane Roscoe regards Big Brother as the trend setter for Australian TV, as it was the first show that allowed an audience to interact with the program by voting housemates off. She explains that Big Brother took advantage of different forms of media including the internet by enhancing the interactivity and including the viewer. She comments on how Big Brother is a ‘constructed around performance.’ Contestants in the house put on a performance based on their ‘role’ or character in the house. “Tension between performance and authenticity in the documentary game show format invites viewers to look for ‘moments of truth’ in a television environment.” (Hill, 2002, p.68)
Furthermore, John Corner deliberately frames reality TV within the context of documentary, summarising different types of reality TV as ‘documentary life.’ Corner allegorically argues that, “Big Brother comprehensively and openly gives up on the kids of “field naturalism” that have driven the documentary traditions into so many contradictions, most especially in the various modes of observational filming.” He metaphorically contends that thinking outside and beyond the documentary category can help us to understand the ‘realities’ in factual and fiction television.
It is quite possible that reality TV documentaries might become the future of mainstream documentary film and television series. John Corner allegorically argues that, “Big Brother operates its claims to the real within a fully managed artificiality, in which almost everything that might be deemed to be true about what people do and say is necessarily and obviously predicted on the larger contrivance of their being in front of the camera in the first place.” From an audiences point of view it is often discussed whether a housmate is ‘being themselves’ in the house. “Common engagement with the program can go between trust and suspicion of the behaviour of ordinary people in the house.” (Hill, 2002, p.68)
“Every minute or every hours a new baby is born.”
Conversely, One Born Every Minute is a uniquely different concept of reality TV as it doesn’t follow the same scripted entertainment formula as most reality shows. The program is set in a maternity hospital ward in Britain and documents the stories and journeys of women from when they arrive at the hospital to the day they give birth. Shot in a documentary style format, each episode includes at least two stories as well as observations and thoughts from the midwifes.
The voice over narration sets background of the story, enabling the audience to connect and relate to the families. I found this program very dramatic, emotional and sentimental. The women in the story open up about their past and the significance of having the baby. Their families were also included to provide some humorous comments and light to the delicate (often painful) experience of giving birth. I felt I was able to connect with the people on ‘One Born Every Minute’ on a different level compared to a program such as Big Brother. I believe this was because what the dialogue was not scripted and the context of the show was set in a natural environment. Overall, whether you like reality TV or not Im afraid it is here to stay for years to come. Reality TV may be criticised and condemned, but at the end of the day it is cheap to produce, popular among viewers and somehow has the ability to hook you in. At the end of the day it seems to make you feel just that little bit better about yourself. That’s just the reality….
Andrejevic, M (2004) Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Hill, A (2002) Reality TV: Factual Entertainment and Television Audiences, Routledge.
Holmes, S, Jermyn, D (2004) Understanding Reality Television, Routledge, London.
Murray, S, Ouellette L, (2009) Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, New York University Press.
Roscoe, J (2004) Article on Big Brother, found in Robert Allen’s ‘The Television Studies Reader.’