The Fascinating Rise of Reality TV

Reality television or reality TV is a type of television programming that documents allegedly unscripted real-life situations. This kindof television shows usually stars unknown people rather than professional actors. It was in the early 1990s when reality television first emerged with shows like The Real World. It became more popular in the early 2000s with the success of the series Idols, Big Brother, and Survivor, which all became global franchises.

Reality TV shows are mostly combined with “confessionals,” which are brief interview segments in which cast members give their opinion or context for the events shown on-screen. Most of the time, these are competition-based reality shows that feature slow elimination of participants, either by a panel of judges or via the audiences’ votes.

There are also other genres of television programming that antecede the reality television boom. These programs were retroactively classified as reality television, such as hidden camera shows, the documentary shows about ordinary people, high-concept game shows, talent-search shows, and home-improvement shows.

As reality TV became popular, it has also faced significant criticism. According to critics, reality TV shows do not reflect reality accurately, in ways both implicit and deceptive. There were even shows that have been accused of supporting the favorite or underdog to win. And for other critics, reality TV shows intend to humiliate or exploit the participants. Some also say that reality TV shows make stars out of untalented people that are unworthy of fame and that they romanticize vulgarity.

But no matter what criticism reality TV shows may get, they still continue to be popular even today. If you want to know more, read on as we’re going to talk about the fascinating rise of reality TV.

History of Reality Television

Reality television shows or those that portray ordinary people in unscripted situations are almost as old as television itself. Candid Camera by producer-host Allen Funt, where people were confronted with funny, unique situations and filmed with hidden cameras, first aired in 1948. Today, it is often considered as an example of reality television programming.

Reality TV from the 1940s to the 1950s

In the late 1940s, patterns for television that portrayed people in unscripted situations started with “Queen for a Day” as an early example. Aside from that, a television game show called “Cash and Carry” debuted in 1946, where contestants perform stunts. This was followed by Allen Funt’s Candid Camera, which we’ve mentioned earlier. It broadcasted unsuspecting ordinary people reacting to pranks.

From 1948, talent search shows like “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” and “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” showed amateur competitors and audience voting. In the 1950s, game shows became popular, such as “Beat the Clock” and “Truth or Consequences,” which involved competitors in wacky games, stunts, and practical jokes.

Reality TV from the 1960s to the 1970s

In 1964, the Granada Television documentary called “Seven Up!” was first broadcasted in the United Kingdom. It was a show that interviewed a dozen ordinary 7-year-olds from a broad cross-section of society and asked them about their reactions to everyday life.

But the first reality show in the modern sense may have been the “The American Sportsman” series, which aired from 1965 to 1986 on ABC in the United States. It was a typical episode that featured one or more celebritiesand sometimes includes their family members, being accompanied by the crew on an outdoor activity, like scuba diving, fishing, rock climbing, and more. It results in action and dialogue being unscripted.

In 1973, a 12-part PBS series called “An American Family” featured a nuclear family going through a divorce. But unlike many later reality shows, it was more or less documentary in style and purpose. Other forerunners of modern reality TV were the productions of Chuck Barris in the 1970s, including “The Newlywed Game,” “The Gong Show,” and “The Dating Game.” All of these featured participants who were willing to sacrifice some of their privacy and dignity for a TV competition.

Reality TV from the 1980s to the 1990s

Producer George Schlatter took advantage of the popularity of videotape to make the reality TV series “Real People,” which was a surprise hit for NBC. This show aired from 1979 to 1984, and its success was copied immediately by ABC by making “That’s Incredible,” which was a stunt show.

In 1991, the series called “Nummer 28” aired on Dutch television. It was the one that originated the concept of putting together strangers in a limited environment for a certain period of time and recording the drama that will happen. This show also pioneered a lot of the stylistic conventions that have since become standard in reality TV shows today, such as the “confessionals” that serve as narration for the show. After a year, this concept was also used by MTV in its series called “The Real World.”

Later on, reality shows such as MasterChef were created. Tabloid talk shows also became popular in the 1980s and 1990s, which featured unusual guests who would later become popular as cast members of reality shows.

Reality TV in the 2000s

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, reality TV shoes became popular globally with the success of franchises like “Survivor/Expedition Robinson” and “Big Brother.” However, in 2001, reality TV programs underwent a temporary decline in viewership in the United States, which lead some entertainment industry columnists to speculate that that genre was a temporary fad that had run its course.

Some of the shows that suffered from low ratings were “The Amazing Race,” Lost,” and “The Mole.” But there are also stronghold shoes that continued to thrive, such as “American Idol” and “Survivor,”

A lot of reality TV shows that were produced in the late 1990s and 2000s became successful globally. Some of these are “Idol,” “Star Academy,” and “The X Factor.” Aside from that, other competition franchises were also created, including “The Biggest Loser,” “Got Talent,” “Top Model,” and “Dancing with the Stars,” to name a few.

Reality TV in the 2010s

In 2010, one of the most successful reality TV show is “The Voice,” having around 50 international adaptations. From 2010 to 2012, “The Tester” was the first reality TV show that was aired over a video game console. In 2013, the “Duck Dynasty,” which featured the Robertson family that founded the Duck Commander, became the most popular reality series in the United States cable television history.However, ratings and profits from reality TV continued to decline in the late 2010s.


Cultural Impact of Reality Television

The global success of reality TV has become an important political phenomenon for some analysts. In fact, in some authoritarian countries, reality TV voting has given the first opportunity for a lot of citizens to vote in any free and fairly wide-scale elections. Aside from that, the bluntness of the settings on some reality shows presents situations that are usually taboo in some conservative cultures. For example, when the reality show “Star Academy Arab World” was aired in 2003, it showed male and female contestants living together. But a Pan-Arab version of Big Brother was canceled in 2004 due to protests.

In India, the Indian Idol focused on breaking down cultural and socioeconomic barriers because the public rallied around the top two contestants of the show in the summer of 2007. In Indonesia, on the other hand, reality TV shows have exceeded soap operas as the most-watched broadcast programs. Critics have claimed that programs like these in Indonesia are reinforcing traditionally Western ideals of materialism and consumerism. But according to Eko Nugroho, a reality-show producer, reality shows are not endorsing American lifestyles but rather reaching people through their common desires.

There were also a number of studies that have tried to pinpoint the appeal of reality television. Some of the factors that have been cited in its appeal include personal identification with the participants, pure entertainment, a feeling of self-importance compared to onscreen participants, enjoyable competition, and as well as especially given scenes that take place in private settings, containing nudity and including gossip.

Now that you can appreciate the fascinating rise of reality TV, it’s time to grab your best glass bong and watch The Real World.


Reality TV has indeed come a long way, from simple documentaries and game shows to more extreme concepts and sharing of private lives. We can say that reality television is the kind of easy-profit programming that network executives dream of. And lucky for them, a lot of audiences are fond of watching these types of shows and series. The success of many reality TV shows ensures that this trend is here to stay.