GCSE EXAM 2010
MEDIA TEACHERS NAME:
In order to be confident in the exam you need to
make sure that you can apply the Key Concepts to
the topic of Reality Television. Once you are
confident with applying the Key Concepts and you
can apply the knowledge learnt in class then you’re
home and dry!
In this booklet you will find ways to apply the Key
Concepts, information to add to your knowledge
base, TASKS and questions to practice to apply
that knowledge (some you may have done in class
already, but that’s what revision is all about!)
Over view of Key Concepts…………………………………… 1
Media Languages: Forms and Conventions…………….. 2
Definitions of Reality TV……………………………………….. 2
Types of Reality TV Shows……………………………………. 3
Forms and Conventions………………………………………... 4
Stereotypes and Reality TV……………………………………. 5
Jade Goody and Susan Boyle…………………………………. 6
Homepage analysis……………………………………………… 9
Uses and Gratifications…………………………………………. 10
Targeting audiences…………………………………………….. 12
Pitching a Reality TV Show…………………………………… 14
KEY CONCEPTS – WHAT ARE THEY?
FORMS AND CONVENTIONS WEBSITES
OF REALITY TV SHOWS
MANUFACTURED FILMIC CODES
• Analyses & interpret a filmic codes and conventions?
• Describe features of various types of Reality TV Shows?
• Examine the use of a voiceover?
• Comment on the MORAL AND ETHICAL ISSUES LIFESTYLE
• Consider how ‘real’ is ‘real’?
• Identify how audience VIEWER
viewpoint is manipulated? PARTICIPANTS AGE, GENDER & RACE
• Examine how Reality TV can
be seen as a cause for
• Describe the demographic
profile of a target audience?
USES AND GRATIFICATIONS PLEASURES CAN YOU?
• Apply Uses and Gratifications when
IDENTITY exploring how audiences respond to
APPEAL INTERACTIVITY • Identify the appeal of certain types of
• Describe the relevance of audience
CAN YOU? • Explore the nature and types of
• Describe the historical development audience interactivity?
• Identify how revenue is brought in?
• Consider why Reality TV is so HISTORY
popular with producers and television COMMERCIAL PRESSURES
REVENUE SPIN OFFS
Media Languages: forms and conventions
A difficulty in the study of Reality Television is in arriving at a precise definition of this
genre which has changed over time. Originally used to describe programmes that
showed how the emergency services worked, the term has now expanded to include
a number of different formats. Arguably it is now one of the most popular television
genres, inhabiting a borderline territory between information and entertainment. The
genre has attracted a lot of criticism and is often used to illustrate arguments about
the alleged ‘dumbing down’ of television.
However, a starting point in defining Reality Television is that it presents us with real
people who are followed in a particular real life situation. Furthermore, that
situation is unscripted and unrehearsed, providing the viewing audience with an
opportunity to follow events as they happen, which is undoubtedly an important
contributory factor to its appeal. As the genre has evolved a variety of formats and
techniques have been set up which essentially have been borrowed from existing
Some definitions of Reality TV:
Reality television is a genre of television programming that presents purportedly
unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, documents actual events, and usually
features ordinary people instead of professional actors. (Wikipedia,
Reality TV is a catch-all category that includes a wide range of television
programmes about real people. Sometimes called popular factual television, reality
TV is located in border territories, between information and entertainment,
documentary and drama (Annette Hill: Reality TV, 2005)
Programming that is unscripted and follows actual ‘real life’ events as they unfold,
usually involving members of the public or groups of celebrities.
The television genre where situations are created by the show’s producers, but the
show itself is unscripted. Cameras capture the participants’ natural reactions and
responses to the situations created, which are then edited as a programme or
series. (Product Placement Glossary, iTVX.com)
Types of Reality TV Shows
INFOTAINMENT: The oldest variation: classic shows
that combine public information messages to the
public on crime, health, etc with real life experts and
examples, and reconstructions of events or issues. Usually use on-camera
presenter, celeb or specialist for added authority.
DOCUSOAP: a hybrid of observational documentary and
soap opera. Documentary style ‘fly-on-the-wall’
programming in which cameras are set up and follow
unscripted situations as they happen. It is argued that this
type of format provides the most realistic programming.
LIFESTYLE PROGRAMME: ‘Lifestyle’ self
improvement/makeover programmes involving real people in
real situations undergoing some sort of trauma in their life with
regard to their appearance, their house, their garden, which is
then transformed and made better by experts.
THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT SHOW: A ‘people experiment’
where a situation is set up and observed, e.g. Wife Swap –
conflicting class values and life-styles within the home –
exploring parenting, social relationships, domestic organisation,
gender roles, work, etc
REALITY TALENT SHOW: Created for TV programmes
involving putting real people in manufactured situations and
filming what happens. Sometimes this involves an element
of competition and uses popularity voting to eliminate
contestants either internally by judges or externally by the
REALITY GAME SHOW: Essentially a popularity contest set
in a highly constructed experimental situation under 24-hour
surveillance. Includes elements of many other reality genres,
including Observation/Surveillance types of programmes
which involve putting together a group of strangers in a house
or another type of environment and letting the viewing
audience watch how they interact as they live together for a period of a couple of
TASK ONE: Write down 3 names of shows for each Reality format
Forms and Conventions of Reality TV Shows (Key Features):
Real people, not actors - opportunities to observe how other people live and
behave, and follow their stories; identifiable characters with whom audiences can
‘Real’ situations - even when they are set up by the programme-makers
Largely unscripted - allowing for the unpredictable
A story, a journey or a contest - narratives – the organisation of events through
editing to tell stories – the journey, the quest, the resolution of a problem
A presenter, host or voiceover narrator
Participants who have volunteered to take part
Lots of editing
An element of competition - participants interacting with each other for a prize or
reward, whether financial, career-related, or around talent or popularity; the narrative
of who will win, who will lose; heroes and villains;
Potential for conflict - opportunities to take sides in on-screen confrontation,
personality clashes, divisions within a group (in reality game shows)
Entertainment - e.g. admiring development of skills, or lack of them; enjoyment in
other people’s discomfort or success; diversion and escape fro personal reality, etc.
- opportunities to influence content of a show through voting
- participation in a community generated around the show – e.g. forums,
Facebook groups, fan sites
TASK TWO: Provide examples of at least 3 Reality TV Shows and explain their forms
and conventions (say what makes them a reality show referring to their key features)
Other aspects of Media Language:
- The use of a voiceover – this can occur during the title sequence and can set up
the tone of the show e.g. Young, Dumb and Living of Mum. It can also be used
during the show to manipulate the audience and representations
- Editing – this can also be used to manipulate the audience and representations
- Title sequences can help to set up the premise of the show and put across themes
One of the key pleasures of Reality Television is that it supposedly shows us real
life events involving real people unscripted and unplanned situations. A key area of
study is in the consideration of how real is real? All Reality Show formats are
constructed and audience viewpoint manipulated. It is important to examine how
this is achieved. A useful exercise would be to contrast different shows and to
consider how real they seem and why.
The nature of providing this real life viewing experience has given rise to moral and
ethical issues that surround it. Exposing participants on Reality Shows as they are
humiliated or upset in front of large audiences who seemingly enjoy the spectacle,
has led to accusations of bad taste. It is important to explore the nature of
voyeurism and the concerns that give rise to this type of viewing experience. By
way of contrast, some participants are extremely skilled at “manipulating the
situation” as they become more experienced readers of the genre.
The selection of types of participants is also a useful avenue to explore and how this
leads to certain types of interactions. Furthermore the content of some Reality
Shows such as Wife Swap and Ibiza Uncovered has also given cause for concern in
that they seem to test the limits of taste and decency, questioning the values they
present to a viewing audience.
TASK THREE: Many Reality TV programmes exploit people to make money. Give
an example of an episode from a programme you have watched which you think
should not have been shown.
Editing and Representation
Although editing technically comes under Media Language, it’s used to construct
reality and can change the way people and situations are represented and in turn
change the way the audience view them. See videos on blog for more
Stereotypes and Reality TV
Stereotype: a simplified view of a person or groups of people, in which one or two
characteristics are used to represent the whole person, and the whole group s/he
belongs to. A classic example: ‘the dumb blonde’ stereotype, based on repeated and
usually inaccurate ideas and media imagery which categorises all young blonde
women as being silly, vain and uninformed.
The contestants in reality TV game shows are often edited to represent
selective or stereotypical behaviour.
The most obvious example is Jade Goody, who built a career, life and death
around versions of – and challenges to – her dumb blonde stereotype.
TASK FOUR: The next two pages explore the ways Jade Goody has been
represented onscreen and in the tabloid press – and the ways she chose to
- the different types of stereotype the images suggest
- the ways these ideas have been constructed through the format and
editing of BB and CBB
- the role played by the tabloid press in supporting or challenging these
TASK FIVE: Explain how Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent or Jade Goody
from Big Brother are good examples of the voyeuristic nature of Reality TV.
Consider the formats role in:
- Representing people
- Exploiting and humiliating people
- Use of stereotypes
Use the blog for help with this task http://10d1media.blogspot.com/2010/05/reality-
Other aspects of Representation:
- Consider how the shows represent themselves e.g. websites
For some people Reality Television is very addictive, it has proven to be particular
successful with young audiences. You should be familiar with audience effects
theories such as the Uses and Gratifications model in exploring how audiences
use and respond to the media. It is argued that the variety of Reality TV formats
means that there is something for everyone and this provides another productive
area of study into audience preferences.
It is further argued that a reason why audiences enjoy some Reality TV formats is
because of the feeling of empowerment it gives them when they can influence the
outcome and sometimes, as has been the case with Big Brother for example, even
the activities of the participants on the show. You should consider the nature and
types of audience interactivity along with the revenue that this brings.
Why do audiences watch reality TV?
Who watches what?
How do they watch?
How do producers target them?
What producers do to generate audiences for reality TV
Broadcasters, commissioners and producers always have particular audiences in
mind. They identify and target their audiences in terms of:
demographics: age, gender, social class, region, ethnicity
psychographics: lifestyles, personality types, values and beliefs, based
on specially commissioned profiling, industry case studies
market research: what genres/shows are successful, opportunities for
more of the same, gaps in the market for particular groups
media technologies: creating and exploiting new media platforms to
reach and draw in their targeted audiences.
Satisfying Our Needs
The ‘Four Needs’ (or ‘Uses and Gratifications’) theory by Blumler and Katz
suggests that audiences use the media in four different ways.
Entertainment and diversion: to find personal pleasure and enjoyment;
emotional release from everyday life and its problems.
Surveillance and information: to learn about the world, new
experiences, other people; to satisfy curiosity; acquire new knowledge.
Personal relationships: to enhance and explore relationships with other
people, find companionship or substitute friendships on screen.
Personal identity: to find support and reinforcement for one’s values
and beliefs; to help understand oneself; to help explore one own identity.
TASK SIX: Choose 2 Reality TV shows and answer the following questions
Who might watch these shows – and why?
What kinds of audiences might watch your chosen shows (age, gender,
social class, ethnicity, interest groups, etc)?
What needs, interests, uses and gratifications might your chosen show
provide for its audience?
Targeting the Audience
finding the right time-slot for the target audience's needs;
‘stripping’ a programme at the same time daily over a week
running repeats, extras, special events
personalising with online and on-demand downloads
Interactivity (the latest buzzword – what every producer wants to achieve)
phone-ins, votes, competitions, web-based forums, chat-rooms, social network
groups, text-message updates etc.
keeping you interested through cross-media promotions – merchandising,
websites, presenters/participants on TV and radio talk-shows, photo-
opportunities and PR stories in the press, lifestyle and celeb magazines and so
TASK SEVEN: Investigate the ways a Reality Show of your choice uses the bullet
point strategies above. You could look at the ways the show uses digital
interactivity such as:
social network groups and their role in recruiting and engaging audiences
online forums and chat rooms
online voting systems and the differences between BBC and commercial
Reality programming is continuing to dominate broadcasting schedules and it is
important to consider why it is so popular with producers and television
networks. A successful format will be relatively cheap in proportion to the number
of hours of broadcasting it can fill. The rise of digital TV in the 1990s meant that
there was an increased need to fill the airwaves so it is not surprising that this was
accompanied by the growth in a variety of Reality formats. You need to have an
understanding of such financial and commercial pressures and it is useful to contrast
the public service and commercial models of broadcasting here. The effect of the
1990 Broadcasting Act opened up competition and the BBC became under pressure
to deliver cheaper programming. As a result popular Reality TV programmes became
an important feature in the prime time ratings war between the BBC and its
The revenue brought to television companies through premium rate telephone voting
is another important area of study. With programmes such as The X Factor, Big
Brother and Strictly Come Dancing proving to be very popular with young audiences,
concern has been raised of exploitation as children run up big mobile phone bills.
Audience participation has also been dogged by recent controversies with
accusations of vote rigging.
One of the features of Reality TV is its ability to generate coverage across the media,
particularly the tabloid press. It is also worth exploring the spin off programmes that
are generated, such as the Strictly Come Dancing fanzine, ‘It Takes Two’.
TASK EIGHT: Write down the benefits for the broadcasters of each show type
(apart from Infotainment) e.g. Docusoaps are relatively cheap to produce
Other aspects of Institution:
- The role of Ofcom and their Broadcasting codes
Pitching your own Reality TV Show
Your job is to provide a pitch for a brand new show called ‘Second
Chances’. It needs to:
be informative, educational and encourage positive role models
provide opportunities for interactive participation by the
suitable for prime time family viewing (scheduled for 6-8pm)
In addition you must:
come up with ideas on how to market the show to the target
present ways to promote the show across various media platforms
Use the PowerPoint previously given to you to plan out your show, and
then use the following points to formulate your pitch.
Writing your pitch:
Answer in role ‘Broadcast Reality TV’ wrote a letter to you why
don’t you write a letter back
Explain which of the 6 types of reality show your show is going to
be, provide a definition of the show type, why does this show type
appeal to audiences? How does this show type benefit
Explain the rules and format of your show (task 3 on PowerPoint)
What forms and conventions of Reality TV will your show
Provide your answers for task 4 (see PowerPoint)
Provide your answers for task 5 (see PowerPoint)
Provide your answers for task 6 (see PowerPoint)
On an A3 piece of paper design the homepage of the website for the
show – explain how you think it will attract the target audience
Storyboard a 30-second extract from the opening sequence of your
show which introduces its main themes and visual style
Storyboard an advert promoting the show