Reality TV hasn’t always been in the addictive form we know it today, so what is it about this genre of television that has us gripped? As our world changes, reality TV develops with it, meaning that our concept of ‘reality’ is constantly changing.
Reality TV began with prank shows
On-screen pranksters began capturing the population’s love of humour at the expense of unsuspecting targets. Comedy is a well-received genre, so combining it with real life was always going to be a success. The off-script nature of these shows made the world of television more accessible and relatable to the general public as it felt as if the scenes could easily occur on your street. This type of reality TV was, and still is, used to brighten people’s moods, take You’ve Been Framed as a prime example.
Next came the contest shows
These feature real people competing in various contests to win a prize, e.g. The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, The Great British Bake Off or Total Wipeout etc. They also have great entertainment value but have the added element of tension and decision making in those which are based on mental, rather than physical, skills. Intelligence based contest shows, such as The Chase, are intellectually stimulating, and therefore those with competitive personalities start to feel the pull of addiction, wanting to beat contestants and acquire new knowledge. Additionally, talent contests, e.g. BGT, where contestants are eliminated, can be equally as addictive as we develop favourites and the modern-day concept of FOMO kicks in if we miss an episode.
It’s all got a bit intimate
Reality shows then began to showcase more hardships, going ‘behind the scenes’ as such in programmes such as TOWIE, Sun, Sea and A&E and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This included the world of dating and relationships which remains a heavily featured theme in today’s reality TV world, e.g. First Dates, The Undatables, Take Me Out etc. This type of programme has even more of an emotional pull than talent contests as viewers become totally invested in the subjects, almost feeling as if they personally know them. They’re on a journey with the reality stars and so a sense of loyalty is built, creating a feeling of guilt if an episode is missed.
We’re now losing the ‘reality’ aspect…
As reality TV advances, it’s becoming increasingly less like real life as production teams have more control over the shows and unnatural situations are created in order to provoke reactions and make ‘good TV’. For instance, the recent hype over Love Island is based on organised challenges and staged conversations, all made to appear natural. But we love it! The same applies to Big Brother where the cause of conflict often comes from a set-up task. Despite knowing this, we’re still obsessed with these shows as they’re so seamlessly put together that we sometimes forget how staged they actually are. Watching human behaviour and relating to it, agreeing or disagreeing with it, judging it or having any kind of opinion on it makes a great talking point, sparking debates and adding to the popularity of this genre. Hence how Gogglebox came about – the concept of people talking about what they’re watching on TV somehow makes great reality TV itself!
So, what’s next for reality TV?
Where can it go from here? We already indulge in these shows by tuning in to the extras such as Love Island’s After Sun or Big Brother’s Bit on the Side where show related gossip is fuelled, and 24-hour live streaming is also sometimes available for the ultimate addicts. I’m sure we’ll soon be seeing a reality show version of the NTAs – exclusively dedicated to awarding reality stars for…being themselves I suppose (or a more entertaining version of themselves).