Societies Obsession with Reality Television

The days of traditional sitcoms are over. Instead of watching scripted shows with our favorite actors that are taped in front of a “live studio audience,” networks have transformed the average couch potato into a actual part of the show, introducing the viewers to a cast of what seems to be regular people, that are not big name actors or actresses, but ones that we can relate to, and some that we even mimmic on a daily basis.

Reality television has took over our households, turned our daughters into divas, our mothers into cougars, our fathers into business tycoons and our sons into body building beach bums.  Any way you put it, America’s fixation on reality television has grown to enormous heights, ones that networks and producers could not even fathom themselves. But is America really interested in reality television, or are we being force-fed and overloaded with an abundance of meaningless programming?


The reality television craze took our generation by storm in the summer of 2000.  This is the year that two of the most popular reality shows hit the airwaves.  Big Brother, a dutch show imported to American television based on a group of contestants locked in a house with surveillance cameras, and Survivor, a Swedish import show where they shipped contestants to an island and have them participate in tribal competitions.

Although these two shows may have paved the way and opened the eyes of networks, this was far rom the beginning of reality t.v.  In the beginning of the 70s, before MTV and the VH1, the first reality t.v. show aired on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) .  The show was called “An American Family” and was based on a middle class Californian family, named the Louds.  The series was filmed for 7 months and compressed into 12 hour long episodes.  The show was a smash hit and the cast of the show, who were not trained actors or actresses, became instantly famous.  Lance Loud became the star of the show and in return became the first openly gay television star.  In an article written by Kelefa Sanneh for the New Yorker titled “The Reality Principle:The rise of a television genre,” a quote was taken from an interview with anthropologist Margaret Mead, who followed the show and wrote and article in TV Guide in 1973.  In the article, Mead wrote(about the show) “they were the people they portrayed on television, “members of a real family.”

The concept of family is just one aspect of reality television in the 21st century.  Networks have introduced us to a wide range of reality programming that address situations in everyday life.  The more we can relate to, the more we will continue to watch.  The producers of these shows capitalize on this by casting some of the most interesting people on their shows.  Strangely, these are the same people that America falls in love with.  These cast members are virtually unknown and have no prior acting experience.  So why not just use actors and actresses that America already loves?  Its simple, execs care less about acting and more about the cast members personality.  They use people who the audience can hope to relate to in real life and usually steer away from big name actors and actresses with egos.  Acting is not a talent needed either for modern reality television.  Without having to cast big name actors or actresses also means networks do not have to pay the cast top dollar.  For instance take a show like MTV’s Jersey Shore, who’s cast started out making a little over $30,000 a show for the first season, and ended with everyone making an average of $100,000 or more a show by the sixth and final season. Now compare that to a scripted sitcom like Friends, where each of the six were making a million dollars per episode.

Beside talent, cost is a big factor in determining what we see on television.  Scott Manville, president and founder of The Writers Vault, was quoted in an article in the  South Source, stating “An episode for a scripted series can be anywhere between a half-million and millions of dollars depending on the network and content involved.” Later in the article Manville says “budgets for reality shows can range from $100,000 to more than $500,000 per episode.”

This explains why television is flooded with reality shows.  They are significantly cheaper to produce than a regular scripted sitcom.  They refer to this as low cost programming that produces high ratings.

So why is America infatuated with reality television and it’s not-so-known cast of characters ?

The website conducted a survey to try and find out the reason why so many Americans chose to watch reality t.v, but not only their television viewing habits but also their values and desires as human beings.  The results were shocking and much different than what was assumed.  The most common answer was so viewers can talk with their friends the next day about the show. The next most common answer was the person did not feel that they were smart enough to understand other types of television shows. Since reality t.v. is so common now, viewers are loyal to certain shows, causing social division amongst different groups of people.  For example, a person who watches a show like “Jersey Shore” or “Love and Hip Hop” might find a person who watches “Dog Whisperer” or “ Survivor” as an outcast.  You might find more viewers from urban areas watching “ Basketball Wives” as opposed to viewers from rural and suburban areas watching “Mob Wives.” Reality t.v. is not only geared towards one type of audience, but rather the different ages, races, genders, weight, height and even sexual preferences of our society.

In the survey, they also discovered that Americans have an obsession with competition.  One thing most reality shows have is some type of competition within the show.  Wether it be a competition between two female cast members fighting over a male cast member, or a competition between two teams of former cast members competing for a cash prize there is always the idea of a competition.  Besides the competitive nature of the shows reality t.v. also lets viewers to fantasize about gaining social status through automatic fame.  The audience grows with the cast of the show, and by the end of the show the viewers attitude is “I can be on this show and do a better job.”

Although reality television has proven to be very influential amongst our generation today, what people forget to realize is what goes on behind the cameras. Despite the fact that reality television appears to be rigged and fake at times, there is some truth to these shows. The people that choose to put their lives on camera don’t realize the huge sacrifice they are making.

Love and Hip Hop star Kaylin Garcia knows all about this too well. For thousands of people all around the world, that name is all too familiar. Garcia was dating famous rapper Joe Budden when she appeared on the show.

“My experience on Love and Hip Hop was definitely an experience. My life was public and it came as a complete shock to me,” she said.

Last season, when Garcia and Budden were introduced on the show, the producers casted another member to the show that seemingly didn’t come as a shock. Tahiry Jose, Budden’s ex-girlfriend for seven years, was added to show for the same season Garcia was on.

Producers can be very conniving at times. Their mission is to provide viewers with a captivating show that will get great ratings and call for more seasons. Therefore, they will do whatever it takes to make that possible. Even if that means destroying someone’s relationship.

“Personally, I would never do it again. In fact, it jeopardized my relationship and was one of the main reasons for our separation. In fact, I didn’t even want to be on the show. I said deuces I’m going to Miami however, I’m all about supporting my man so I agreed to it,” she said.

Reality television has taken our society by storm.  The idea of taking a nobody and turning them in someone famous and changing their social status will always be a fantasy for reality show junkies.  In return, networks will continue to receive high ratings and introducing us to new reality series.