Reality TV: Made for the Small Screen? - Small Screen Week


Jersey Shore star Pauly D. attends the Music Box Party during VMA weekend. Photo by Phillip Nelson.

Do you enjoy watching your favorite celebs compete in dancing competitions, or seeing how several individuals can cohabitate in one house while taking over the Jersey Shore? Are you a person with a passion for fashion, and are you filled with amazement while watching aspiring models battle it out to be the nation’s next “Top Model”? Is your guilty pleasure  watching D-list celebrities “looking for love” as they send potential lovers packing each week? If so, reality TV is a television genre made for you, and has been steadily taking over television sets, one network at a time.

Reality TV is defined as “an unscripted show in which members of the public are placed in a predicament and followed by cameras to see how they will react” according to Prospect Magazine. As more and more television networks develop new varieties of reality TV, traditional sitcoms have taken a back seat to the popularity rates of the former. According to Peter Bazalgette, people should “Expect fewer sitcoms, less drama and more reality TV.”  “Reality is cheaper and quicker to make” Bazalgette also states. This can explain why television networks have been progressively producing new themes under the reality TV umbrella.

In the United States, reality television has always had a presence on the small screxen throughout the 20th century. However, it wasn’t until shows such as MTV’s The Real World in the ‘90s that the genre found its popularity. In the beginning of the new millennium, Survivor and Big Brother enabled the genre to explode. Ratings for both shows have topped national ratings in the US since the beginning of their production. These shows paved the way for series such as American Idol, Fear Factor, The Mole, Laguna Beach, Project Runway and so much more.

What drives reality TV’s popularity is that they have made shows catered to every possible issue or personal dilemma so no one in America feels left out. For example, an overweight individual trying to get back in shape might enjoy watching shows like The Biggest Loser or Celebrity Fit Club to relate to people with the same issues, and to gain some sort of inspiration. Or a program like Teen Mom that allows teenage mothers to sympathize, while comparing and contrasting their experiences to the cast. Reality TV can prove to be an outlet that highlights issues experienced in today’s society.

Although reality TV has pretty much dominated small screens across America, some productions however have found themselves to be taken off the air despite the popularity of the genre. Some of these short-lived series include: Making the Band, Reunion, Growing Up Gotti, Miracle Workers, elimiDATE, Blind Date, and The Simple Life just to name a few. Although every fad may have some casualties, the reality TV genre doesn’t seem to be fazed by some of its minor losses.

Reality TV has caused some personalities to become celebrities and pop icons through their small screen debuts. This is a route that several celebrities took to become famous, or gain even more popularity. Examples of these rags-to-riches figures are: Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from The Jersey Shore, Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port from Laguna Beach and The Hills, Bethenny Frankel of The Apprentice and The Real Housewives of New York City, Jon and Kate Gosselin of Jon & Kate Plus 8, and Tiffany “New York” Pollard from Flavor of Love and I Love New York just to name a few.

Presently reality TV doesn’t seem to be going anywhere from television sets across the nation. Audiences all over continue to tune into their favorite show, hoping to connect and be entertained by the “real” characters on the screens of their televisions or favorite piece of technology, i.e. the IPad. Is reality TV made for the small screen? The success and ratings of the genre continues to prove that perhaps it is.
Written by: Audrey Nyarko