The Reality of
Let's face it. Whether or not you enjoy this genre of television series' (or television at all) it is a huge part of the American culture. So an introduction or explanation of this style of media is almost certainly unneccessary. In fact, to read any sort of article pertaining to the theory or production of "reality" tv would be a complete and utter waste of time. So here it goes.
Let's start by understanding the definition of "reality". (Note the quotations, subtly indicating disillusionment.)
Reality - [Ree - al - i - tee]
1. The state or quality of being real.
2. A real thing or fact.
Now that we have that tiring bit of drivel out-of-the-way, let's get to the real reality that is Reality Television.
Where did it come from?
Believe it or not, this riveting genre of television production has been around for decades! Although the first tv show to use the format in the modern sense was in 1971. This was show was called An American Family, which was actually a mini-series following a nuclear family going through a divorce. The show was on PBS and sought to strictly observe the family as a commentary toward the social changes happening in America at the time. As a result, it lacked the same edge and production value of our modern tales of realism. It was indeed more of a documentary, dry and virtually unedited by today's standards. In other words, really boring (pun absolutely intended).
Other staples of the genre during the 70's included The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, whereby America truly began to develop its voracious appetite for self-deprivation that is so common within today's reality line-up. These shows operated on the premise that people would literally do anything to be on television. Humiliating themselves or their new-found spouses. This had audiences rolling in the aisles.
A Modern Pandemic (Pandemic means good, right?)
It is only in the past 10 years or so that we have really come to see Reality TV delve into almost every facet of our lives. Whether singing off-key, guilt-tripping your parents into buying that $50,000 wedding dress, or simply smashing your genitals while engaging in backyard sports, these shows have captured America's heart by storm. It's no wonder that as of 2010, 75% of the 20 top-rated Broadcast Television shows were "unscripted" or "reality" shows. Jersey Shore was a show that received particularly high ratings during 2010, with just around 4.4 million viewers! This was higher than any other rated show on television. The show is adept at pulling in the most valuable demographic (18 to 49) by featuring hook-ups (that's illicit sex), bouts of profanity and violence, and of course the always inevitable trouble with the law.
Either by chance or by the innate wisdom of the entertainment industry, "informative" and "educational" shows such as the local and international news are not found under the Reality TV banner. This would be misleading, as these types of programming do not feature well thought out storylines. Also not found here are live sporting events such as Football or Baseball, and rightly so. These programs do not give the Producers time or opportunity to stage scenes, raising the overall production value and making sure the reality is properly captured on camera.
What is Reality?
Who is to say what is real and what is not? I mean, with such a vague and broad definition, everything is real. Sure, Reality TV has seen it's share of criticism in the past few years. Whether it be broken homes, children's lives being thrown on National TV with little say in the matter, or even the inevitable suicide of the jaded Reality TV participant, aren't we forgetting what's really important here? They are on TV! With so many otherwise useless, non-contributing, and uncreative people in society able to parlay their temporary fame from Reality TV into succesful business ventures, shouldn't we be applauding the genre?
To quote from the great Morpheus in the Matrix, "What is real? How do you define, real? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain." Although it's been a while since I have seen that movie, I'm pretty sure that was the over all moral of the story. So in a nutshell, we can see and hear it on TV, therefore it is real. This in turn, makes it irrefutably Reality Television.