Reality shows have been a form of entertainment for decades now. The many unscripted portrayals of real life tend to pull in thousands of viewers every week. It can’t be denied there is something for everyone in the reality TV market. Whether you want to watch family members at each other’s throats, celebrities eating bugs or a bunch of 20-year old’s shamelessly getting intoxicated there is a show for you. Often prone to controversy, reality shows tend to make newspaper headlines, for good or bad reasons. However, following the death of Mike Thallassitis -last year- reality shows have had to prove they are doing everything in their power to keep their contestants safe. Due to all of the controversial storylines that come from reality shows, have they had their day?
From the early 2000s, reality shows have been a staple on the box. They started out humbly, often in a complete format. With ordinary people battling out for a Modelling contract on Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Modelor others competing for the chance to become Gordon Ramsay’s next executive chef on Hell’s Kitchen. These shows were often seen as harmless as the winning contestant got such massive prizes whereas the other contestants gained exposure. However, you often seen participants break down in floods of tears when they couldn’t handle the pressure of being pushed past their limits.
Although the competition format did win viewers, ratings started to stagnate, suggesting the public were craving other kinds of reality shows. In 2010, we began to see another type of show developing. These shows favoured drama, scandal and downright bad behaviour. One of the best examples being The Only Way is Essex, a show that followed the lives of the people living in Brentwood. Although, differing from its predecessors as the producers fully admitted some of the scenes had been modified for viewer’s entertainment. As the show was formulated it made way for dramatic outbursts, that many viewers claimed fake. Yet it didn’t stop thousands tuning in.
The Controversial Headlines
Following the success of The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE), MTV UK decided they wanted a piece of the action. Geordie Shore first aired in 2011, following the success of their American counterpart Jersey Shore. The show followed 8 housemates as they lived and got drunk together for a period of four weeks. From the first episode, you see the reality of putting 8 young people together and fuelling them with alcohol. Viewers got the chance to see everything including the cast vomit, wet themselves, have sex and strip off in the hot tub. Having gone to the extremes, an MP suggested she was going to be ‘raising questions in parliament regarding the sensational acts’. This was unheard of. As no reality show had been discussed in parliament before. Therefore, as the first episode pulled in 330,000 viewers and the news sparked controversy, more people started tuning in to see what they were missing. Having made its mark on the viewers, MTV had birthed a new reality and paved the way for more sensational predecessors.
Before, Geordie Shore people would have been downright flabbergasted at seeing people have sex on TV. Yet, now it seems as if viewers have become numb to people having a romp under the duvet. In 2013, ITV 2 aired The Magaluf Weekender (later renamed Ibiza Weekender), having seen the success of shows that followed party loving people. This shows premise was to follow two groups of new guests as they check in at the lively hotel for a weekend of partying with the reps. Here we see the reps have sex with each other, excessive drinking, pool/ boat parties, and scandalous drinking games. The ITV 2 show favoured rigid cameras to make the show seem more real. Unlike, the semi-scripted TOWIE, the Magaluf Weekender was praised for their real feel. Inspiring 29,000 tweets following the show’s opening.
Although these shows tend to be seen as a low form of entertainment they still manage to pull in a mammoth viewership. Not only does this benefit the networks that home them but it also catapults the cast members or contestants into the public realm. Which boasts further opportunities for them. Many of the casts of Geordie Shore, TOWIE and Made in Chelsea have their own clothing lines, shops, makeup ranges or exercise regimes for people to follow. Which helps subsidise their incomes following starring on the show. Furthermore, many have had opportunities to travel the world, write books or become brand ambassadors for important causes. In the case of Charlotte Crosby, her hilarious down to earth personality gained her a presenting spot on Just Tattoo of Us and her very own show The Charlotte Show. Therefore, it highlights that if the British Public embrace a certain cast member the can be given a world of opportunities that wouldn’t have been at their disposal before.
Many teenagers often make up the foundation of viewers and it can be dangerous for them to watch these sensational shows. As they are more vulnerable and tend to take the shows on face value. Which means they can start emulating what they see as they think it is normal behaviour. Making it more likely that people will begin to develop a fame complex. Meaning they begin to think being a reality TV star is a good career goal. The influx of so much reality TV has created a generation of fame-hungry youths. People who dream of gaining their own book deals and shops as a result of appearing on television. As we all know this is a dangerous outlook as the majority will not come close to achieving this goal and may suffer from depression as a result.
Lastly, although a form of entertainment, producers need to be cautious when thinking up new reality shows. As they need to think about the contestants’ mental well-being when they appear on their shows. Following the cancellation of The Jeremy Kyle Show earlier this year and the stricter testing Love Island has been forced to adopt due to the death of their participants. It begs the question are these types of shows safe for partakers or is it just a way of boosting their networks ratings?