‘ 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. ( http://www.skillset.org )
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 )
3. Reality television is...
Reality TV Conventions
What are the conventions of reality TV?
Can you identify a list of typical features that many Reality TV shows share?
Reality TV general conventions
Real people, not actors
‘ Real’ situations, even when they are set up by the programme makers
A story, a journey or a contest
A presenter, host or voiceover
Participants who have volunteered
to take part
High level of editing
Can you group the programmes you have in front of you by sub-genre?
What sub genres of Reality TV do you think currently exist – can you make a list?
Infotainment (reconstruction, expose)
Docusoap (in the home, workplace, school)
Lifestyle (makeover, improvement or change - self or property)
Social experiment (people experiments where situations are set up and observed)
Reality Talent (competition format where talents are judged and a winner is revealed)
Reality Game (popularity contest in constructed situation)
The Infotainment Show
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.
999: tips to the public about how to save lives, alongside reconstructions of crises where people are saved by the emergency services. Click for 999
Crimewatch: reconstructions of crimes with particular instructional message to the public , to get involved and try to support police in reporting and solving crime.
The Docusoap a hybrid of observational documentary and soap opera
Vets in Practice: narratives around vets, suffering pets, and their owners and the drama, highs and lows of the daily life of a veterinary practice.
Traffic Cops: motorway stories, seen from the point of view of the daily work of traffic police. Click for Traffic Cops
The Family : 28-camera set-up records the minutiae of everyday family life over 8 months. Massively edited into a highly constructed narrative. Series 1 observational with voiceover, focusing on small moments of family conflict set entirely within the home; Series 2 incorporates talking heads, interview and more continuing story strands, with external footage. Click for The Family (clip 1) ; Click for The Family (clip 2) .
The Lifestyle Programme
Remodelling of homes, gardens, bodies etc for ‘ordinary’ people, e.g: Bargain Hunt , Cash in the Attic , 60-minute Makeover . Features include:
observational (usually) with expert gurus and a ‘journey’
a narrative consisting of a problem; a solution process; a final resolution
often, but not always, a final ‘transformation’ moment, or a surprise.
You Are What You Eat or Freaky Eaters , where experts try to make a life-changing difference for real people by encouraging us to eat healthier types of food, or overcome problems or fears: Click for Freaky Eaters
Gok’s Fashion Fix , Ten Years Younger , What Not to Wear where real people with problems of body image, style or confidence are exposed onscreen, remodelled by experts, re-invented as better people, and ‘premiered’ to the world.
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. Click for Wife Swap
Blood Sweat and T-shirts – assumptions of affluent Western teens challenged through experience of harsh lives of other cultures. Click for Blood Sweat & T-Shirts
Secret Millionaire – a social experiment with positive outcomes. Click for Secret Millionaire
The Choir – encouraging participation; teaching boys to enjoy singing; uniting divided communities; mending ‘Broken Britain’ through song.
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, e.g:
tasks and challenges – create tension and entertainment
personal confession – as in the Diary Room
personalities selected for their ‘conflict potential’: heroes and villains
suspense – evictions and a final resolution
controversy – opportunities for discussion, water-cooler moments, press coverage e.g. Big Brother , I’m A Celebrity…
The Reality Talent Show
Competition – auditions, tension, conflict, skills development
A format – recognisable, familiar, same but different
Talent (or not) – entertainment and diversion – it’s fun!
Celebrity judges, real-life personal stories or journeys
Inclusiveness – anyone can enter
A long-term process building to a mega-event
A vote and a winner – resolution! (e.g. The X Factor , Britain’s Got Talent ).
Reality sub - genres
Can you now place the programmes you have been given into their correct sub-genre
On the reality TV spectrum , decide where your programmes lie in terms of:
How ‘natural’ it is
How ‘constructed’ it is
How ‘entertaining’ it is considered to be
Reality TV genre – learning summary
Constantly changing and evolving
Broad sub-genres and hybrids
Sub-genres have their own unique characteristics
Sub-sub genres have come about as the genre has grown and sub genres have become more defined