Reality TV, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

Life in the USA is a complete guide to American life for immigrants and Americans. All materials on this site Copyright © Elliot Essman 2014. All rights reserved.    Home    Back    Next

Life in the USA
American Culture
Television

Reality Television
This material courtesy of Corrinne Callins

One of the most sensational, innovative, and often controversial genres of television programming in the United States right now is “reality” television. These programs slowly began popping up on television screens in the early 1990's and have steadily gained momentum ever since. Since the late 1990's, reality shows have topped television ratings lists season after season.

Also known as “unscripted television”, reality television shows feature ordinary people who act and speak without staged direction or scripted dialogue. Often, the thrill of watching reality shows is that these real life characters are free to be themselves – and the results are often hilarious and sometimes even shocking.

Reality television shows vary in format - from competitions, such as the extremely popular “Survivor” broadcast, to shows that follow the daily lives of everyday people, such as the MTV network's' long-running series, “The Real World.” Also in the mix are style makeover and home remodeling shows, such as “What Not to Wear” and “Flip That House,” and dating shows.

Another popular trend in reality programming is shows featuring celebrities in unscripted situations. “Celebrity Fit Club” shows the struggles of several semi-celebrities who compete with each other to lose the most weight. Several reality-dating shows currently on the air feature one celebrity searching for love among a group of pre-selected non-celebrities. The celebrity eliminates the contestants one by one until the pool of potential soul mates narrows down to one true love. More often than not, the celebrity and his or her new mate break up very quickly, and another season of the show is filmed featuring a new batch of potential mates.

The prospect of any individual finding lasting love on a reality television show is extremely slim. Very few of these matches last beyond a couple of months, and even fewer end in matrimonial bliss. However, when one particular contestant gains significant popularity with viewers, producers catch on and may create a new dating show featuring the standout contestant.

For contestants, the lures of being on a reality television show are instant fame and the prospect of winning thousands of dollars. Almost all reality shows offer their contestants or winners some form of monetary compensation. Competitions usually offer large payouts to the winners. However, in some competitions, all contestants receive small stipends during filming.

Each year, a new crop of reality shows are produced in addition to the popular shows that break ratings records season after season. The fascination with unscripted television strikes millions of viewers across the United States each season, making reality television viewing a favorite American pastime.


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