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The genre covers a wide range of television programming formats, from game show or quiz shows which resemble the frantic, Japanese variety shows produced in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s (such as Gaki no tsukai), to surveillance- or voyeurism-focused productions such as Big Brother. Reality television frequently portrays a modified and highly influenced form of day-to-day life, at times utilizing sensationalism to attract audience viewers and increase advertising revenue. Participants are often placed in exotic locations or abnormal situations, and are often persuaded to act in specific scripted ways by off-screen “story editors” or “segment television producers”, with the portrayal of events and speech manipulated and contrived to create an illusion of reality through direction and post-production editing techniques.
Channels Devoted to Reality Shows: There have been at least four television channels devoted exclusively to reality television: Fox Reality in the United States, launched in 2005, Global Reality Channel in Canada in 2010, Zone Reality in the United Kingdom, launched in 2002, and The History Channel, launched in 1995. (The Canadian and British channels still exist; Fox Reality ended in mid-2010). In addition, several other cable channels, such as Bravo, A&E, and E!, VH1 and MTV, devote large portions of their programming to reality programs. Mike Darnell, head of reality TV for the US Fox network, was quoted as saying that the broadcast networks (NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox) “might as well plan three or four [reality shows each season because we’re going to have them, anyway.”
Subgenres of reality television: The genre of reality television consists of various subgenres.
In many “reality” TV programs, camera shooting and footage editing give the viewer the impression that they are passive observers following people going about their daily personal and professional activities; this style of filming is often referred to as fly on the wall or factual television. Documentary style programs give viewers a private look into the lives of the subjects. This process can create viewer-character relations, as taboo subject matter becomes public, and gives viewers the sense that these ‘public figures’ deal with similar issues. Similarly, it can also show contrasting lifestyles and issues. This can give viewers a sense of security because reality programs also display difficulties and struggles.
Within documentary-style reality television are several subcategories or variants:
Special living environment
Some documentary-style programs place cast members, who in most cases previously did not know each other, in artificial living environments; The Real World is the originator of this style. In almost every other such show, cast members are given a specific challenge or obstacle to overcome. Road Rules, which started in 1995 as a spin-off of The Real World, started this pattern: the cast traveled across the country guided by clues and performing tasks.
Big Brother is probably the best known program of this type in the world with different versions produced in many countries around the globe.
Another subset of fly-on-the-wall-style shows involves celebrities. Often these show a celebrity going about their everyday life: notable examples include The Anna Nicole Show, The Osbournes, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, and Hogan Knows Best. In other shows, celebrities are put on location and given a specific task or tasks; these include Celebrity Big Brother, The Simple Life, Tommy Lee Goes to College, The Surreal Life, and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here! VH1 has created an entire block of shows dedicated to celebrity reality, known as “Celebreality”. This form of documentary follows the lives of celebrities, often as they take on new tasks and ventures. Shows such as these are often created with the idea of promotion of a celebrity product or upcoming project.
Some documentary-style shows portray professionals either going about day-to-day business or performing an entire project over the course of a series. In the case of “picker” or “collector” shows, where professionals source and sell unique collectables, Experts are often brought in to give commentary and appraisal of the items. In 2012, Entertainment Executives and Reality TV Producers launched an open marketplace (CastMyReality.com) for scouting unique professions and experts to build shows around, and integrate persons to be cast in current shows.
The earliest example (and the longest running reality show of any genre) is COPS which has been airing since 1989, proceeding by many years the current reality show phenomenon.
Other examples of this type of reality show include the American shows Miami Ink, Bikini Barbershop, The First 48, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Dog Whisperer, American Chopper and Deadliest Catch; the British shows Airport, Police Stop! and Traffic Cops; the Australian shows Border Security and Bondi Rescue, and the New Zealand show Motorway Patrol. The US cable networks TLC and A&E in particular show a number of this type of reality show.
VH1’s 2001 show Bands on the Run was a notable early hybrid, in that the show featured four unsigned bands touring and making music as a professional activity, but also pitted the bands against one another in game show fashion to see which band could make the most money.
People with disabilities
This genre is becoming more popular in recent years. Featuring disabled people in real life or extraordinary situations.
Examples of this in the US: Push Girls; Little People, Big World
In the UK: Cast Offs; Beyond Boundaries; Britain’s Missing Top Model; Dancing on Wheels; The Undateables; Seven Dwarves Documentaries such as these offer a glimpse into a small percentage of the population who must overcome incredible feats in order to live a ‘normal life’.
One subset of documentary-style reality television programming is the Ethnic American subcategory. On November 13, 2011 All-American Muslim premiered on TLC (previously The Learning Channel). The show followed five Lebanese-American Shia Muslim families living in Dearborn, Michigan, the largest community of Muslim-Americans in the United States. It is believed that TLC cancelled the show after one season because advertisers had pulled advertising due to many Americans’ resistance to a program that depicted Muslim-Americans in a positive light. TLC formally cited low ratings as the reason for cancelling the show.
On March 11, 2012 Shahs of Sunset debuted on Bravo. This Ethnic American program follows six affluent Persian-American friends who live in Beverly Hills, California. The Los Angeles area has notoriously been referred to as “Tehrangeles” due to the large volume of Iranian-Americans who live there. Both All-American Muslim and Shahs of Sunset have been considered controversial since these ethnic groups have been associated with terrorism. In addition, critics of Ethnic American reality shows frequently state that the portrayals of a particular ethnic group are inaccurate or fictionalized as opposed to “real”.
Minority groups/Abnormal situations
One of the major goals of reality television is to showcase the lives of people, different from the average North American. This is a beneficial aspect of reality programming, as it creates an open mind, and promotes tolerance. When ‘Sister Wives’ first aired in 2010, it garnered harsh criticism for displaying a polygamist family living in Utah. However, over the next two seasons, viewers got to see that the family was not much different from the average American family, and struggled with similar things such as money, children, and marriage stress. The show gained millions of fans, who showed support for the Brown family. Likewise, TLC’s show Breaking Amish followed the journey of five young adults from the Amish community who moved to New York to start a new life. As the season progressed, issues and struggles of the cast were portrayed, and the secret lives of the Amish began to unravel.
Reality legal programming
Another subgenre of reality television is “reality legal programming.” These are programs that center on real-life legal matters. This is as opposed to fictitious or scripted legal matters as highlighted in programs known as legal dramas, a subcategory of dramatic programming. The real-life legal matters broadcasted in reality legal programming tend to have thematic subcategories, such as court shows, law enforcement documentaries, true crime shows, legal news shows, etc.
One of the many subgenres of reality legal programming is “court shows”, specifically modern-day court shows (at least most of them). Originally, court shows were all dramatized and staged programs with actors playing the litigants, witnesses, and lawyers. The cases were either reenactments of actual real-life cases or altogether made up cases. Among examples of courtroom dramas include Famous Jury Trials, Your Witness, Traffic Court, the first two eras ofDivorce Court, etc. The People’s Court, however, revolutionized the court show genre by introdocing the arbitration-based “reality” format in 1981, later adopted by the vast majority of court shows. Before this took, however, the genre experienced a lull in programming after The People’s Court was cancelled in 1993. Only short-lived or loosely related court shows aired for a time. The genre then soared through the emergence of Judge Judy in 1996. After this, a slew of other reality court shows, utilizing the same arbitration format, arrived on the scene, such as Judge Mathis, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Alex, Judge Mills Lane, Judge Hatchett, etc.
Under its arbitration-based “reality” format, the actual cases with the actual parties involved is the trend. Court shows typically obtain cases in three ways: 1) through use of researchers scouring the country’s small claims courts and sending copies of cases to the producers of their respective show 2) through people submitting lawsuits to the show via their website 3) through people calling the show’s telephone number. Despite using legitimate litigants, the “judges” are actually “arbitrators” as these pseudo-judges are not actually presiding in a court of law, but rather a studio setting where different rules can apply. Typically, however, they are retired judges, or at least individuals who’ve had some legal experience. Due to the genre’s previous trend of dramatized cases, terminology such as “real” is heavily emphasized in modern-day court shows.
Courtroom programs are typically daytime television shows that air on weekdays. The genre serves as formidable competition to the talk show and game show genres, often dominating daytime ratings.
Law enforcement documentaries
Another subgenre of reality legal programming is law enforcement documentaries. Law enforcement documentaries are programs that capture police officers on duty. These shows tend to be shocking in nature as they comprise of individuals caught in real-life criminal acts and circumstances, as well as confrontations with police officers. The most successful installment of this subgenre is Cops.
Another sub-genre of reality TV is “reality competition” or so-called “reality game shows,” which follow the format of non-tournament elimination contests. Typically, participants are filmed competing to win a prize, often while living together in a confined environment. In many cases, participants are removed until only one person or team remains, who/which is then declared the winner. Usually this is done by eliminating participants one at a time, in balloon debate style, through either disapproval voting or by voting for the most popular choice to win. Voting is done by the viewing audience, the show’s own participants, a panel of judges, or some combination of the three.
A well-known example of a reality-competition show is the globally syndicated Big Brother, in which cast members live together in the same house, with participants removed at regular intervals by either the viewing audience or, in the case of the American version, by the participants themselves.
There remains some disagreement over whether talent-search shows such as the Idol series, America’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, and Celebrity Duets are truly reality television, or just newer incarnations of shows such as Star Search. Although the shows involve a traditional talent search, the shows follow the reality-competition conventions of removing one or more contestants per episode and allowing the public to vote on who is removed; the Idol series also require the contestants to live together during the run of the show (though their daily life is never shown onscreen). Additionally, there is a good deal of interaction shown between contestants and judges. As a result, such shows are often considered reality television, and the American Primetime Emmy Awards have nominated both American Idol and Dancing with the Stars for the Outstanding Reality-Competition Program Emmy.
Modern game shows like Weakest Link, Greed, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, American Gladiators, Dog Eat Dog and Deal or No Deal also lie in a gray area: like traditional game shows (e.g.,The Price Is Right, Jeopardy!), the action takes place in an enclosed TV studio over a short period of time; however, they have higher production values, more dramatic background music, and higher stakes than traditional shows (done either through putting contestants into physical danger or offering large cash prizes). In addition, there is more interaction between contestants and hosts, and in some cases they feature reality-style contestant competition and/or elimination as well. These factors, as well as these shows’ rise in global popularity at the same time as the arrival of the reality craze, lead many people to group them under the reality TV umbrella as well as the traditional game show one.
There are various hybrid reality-competition shows, like the worldwide-syndicated Star Academy, which combines the Big Brother and Idol formats, The Biggest Loser and The Pick-up Artistwhich combine competition with the self-improvement format, and American Inventor, which uses the Idol format for products instead of people. Some shows, such as Making the Band andProject Greenlight, devote the first part of the season to selecting a winner, and the second part to showing that person or group of people working on a project.
Popular variants of the competition-based format include the following:
Dating-based competition shows follow a contestant choosing one out of a group of suitors. Over the course of either a single episode or an entire season, suitors are eliminated until only the contestant and the final suitor remains. For a time, in 2001-2003, this type of reality show dominated the other genres on the major US networks. Shows that aired included The Bachelor, its spin-off The Bachelorette, as well as Love in the Wild, For Love or Money, Paradise Hotel, Temptation Island, Average Joe and Farmer Wants a Wife, among others. More recent such shows include Flavor of Love and its spin-offs I Love New York, Rock of Love, and The Cougar. This is one of the older variants of the format; shows such as The Dating Game that date to the 1960s had similar premises (though each episode was self-contained, and not the serial format of more modern shows). Dating-based competitions like The Bachelor and Flavour of Love often come under fire for their authenticity and the portrayal of the dating world. In shows such as these, contestants fight to win the affection of one suiter, often over a period of a few months. In the case of the Bachelor, the lucky man or woman is often expected to propose to the winner, bringing questions about the authenticity of the relationship. Likewise, reality programs centered around relationships are often victim of ‘Frankenbiting’. This term, coined by program consultant Todd Sharpe, is the process of taking clips and slicing and dicing them until the proper dialogue or context is reached.
In this category, the competition revolves around a skill that contestants were pre-screened for. Competitors perform a variety of tasks based on that skill, are judged, and are then kept or removed by a single expert or a panel of experts. The show is usually presented as a job search of some kind, in which the prize for the winner includes a contract to perform that kind of work. The show also features judges who act as counselors, mediators and sometimes mentors to help contestants develop their skills further or perhaps decide their future position in the competition. Most judges have a range of different personalities and are often hired by producers for their work experiences, achievements, and popularity, charisma and entertainment purposes. Popstars, which debuted in 1999, may have been the first such show while Idol series has been longest and most popular franchise today with American Idol being the highest rating show in American history. It is also being showed around the world. The first job-search show which showed dramatic, unscripted situations may have been America’s Next Top Model, which premiered in May 2003. Other examples include The Apprentice (which judges business skills), Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef (for chefs), Shear Genius (for hair styling), Project Runway (for clothing design), Top Design (for interior design), Stylista (for fashion editors), Last Comic Standing (for comedians), The Starlet and Scream Queens (for actresses), I Know My Kid’s a Star(for child performers), On the Lot (for filmmakers), RuPaul’s Drag Race (for drag queens), The Shot (for photographers), So You Think You Can Dance (for dancers), MuchMusic VJ Search (for television hosts), Dream Job (for sportscasters), Face Off (for make-up artists), and The Tester (for game testers). Some shows use the same format with celebrities: in this case, there is no expectation that the winner will continue this line of work, and prize winnings often go to charity. Examples of celebrity competition programs include Deadline, Celebracadabra, and The Celebrity Apprentice.
Most of these programs create a sporting competition among athletes attempting to establish their name in that sport. The Club, in 2002, was one of the first shows to immerse sport with reality TV, based on a fabricated club competing against real clubs in the sport of Australian Rules football; the audience helped select which players played each week by voting for their favorites. Golf Channel’s The Big Break is a reality show in which aspiring golfers compete against one another and are eliminated. The Contender, a boxing show, unfortunately became the first American reality show in which a contestant committed suicide after being eliminated from the show; the show’s winner was promised a shot at a boxing world championship. Sergio Mora, who won, indeed got his title shot and became a world champion boxer. In The Ultimate Fighter participants have voluntarily withdrawn or expressed the desire to withdraw from the show due to competitive pressure.
In sports shows, sometimes just appearing on the show, not necessarily winning, can get a contestant the job. The owner of UFC declared that the final match of the first season of Ultimate Fighter was so good, both contestants were offered a contract, and in addition, many non-winning “TUF Alumni” have prospered in the UFC. Many of the losers from World Wrestling Entertainment’s Tough enough and Diva Search shows have been picked up by the company.
Not all sports programs, however, involve athletes trying to make a name in the sport. The 2006 US reality series Knight School focused on students at Texas Tech University vying for a walk-on (non-scholarship) roster position on the school’s men’s basketball team under legendary coach Bob Knight. In the Republic of Ireland, RTÉ One’s Celebrity Bainisteoir involves eight non-sporting Irish celebrities becoming bainisteoiri (managers) of mid-level Gaelic football teams, leading their teams in an officially sanctioned tournament.
Some reality television shows cover a person or group of people improving their lives. Sometimes the same group of people are covered over an entire season (as in The Swan and Celebrity Fit Club), but usually there is a new target for improvement in each episode. Despite differences in the content, the format is usually the same: first the show introduces the subjects in their current, less-than-ideal environment. Then the subjects meet with a group of experts, who give the subjects instructions on how to improve things; they offer aid and encouragement along the way. Finally, the subjects are placed back in their environment and they, along with their friends and family and the experts, appraise the changes that have occurred. Other self-improvement or makeover shows include “How Do I Look?” (fashion makeover). The Biggest Loser and Fat March, (which covers weight loss), Extreme Makeover (entire physical appearance), Queer Eye and What Not to Wear (style and grooming), Supernanny (child-rearing), Made (attaining difficult goals), Trinny & Susannah Undress (fashion makeover and marriage), Tool Academy (relationship building) andCharm School and From G’s to Gents (self-improvement and manners).
Some shows make over part or all of a person’s living space, work space, or vehicle. The American show This Old House was the first such show debuting in 1979. The British showChanging Rooms, beginning in 1996 (later remade in the US as Trading Spaces) was the first such renovation show that added a game show feels with different weekly contestants. Other shows in this category include Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Debbie Travis’ Facelift, Designed to Sell, While You Were Out, and Holmes on Homes. Pimp My Ride and Overhaulin’show vehicles being rebuilt. Some shows, such as Restaurant Makeover and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, show both the decor and the menu of a failing restaurant being remade. The issue of “making over” was taken to its social extreme with the British show Life Laundry, in which people who had become hoarders, even living in squalor, were given professional assistance.
As with game shows, a gray area exists between such reality TV shows and more conventional formats. Some argue the key difference is the emphasis of the human story and conflicts of reality shows, versus the emphasis on process and information in more traditional format shows. The show This Old House, which began in 1979, the start to finish renovation of different houses through a season; media critic Jeff Jarvis has speculated that it is “the original reality TV show.”
Another type of reality program is the social experiment that produces drama, conflict, and sometimes transformation. Wife Swap which began in 2003 on Channel 4 and has aired for four seasons on ABC is a notable example. People with different values agreed to live by each other’s social rules for a brief period of time and sometimes learn from the experience. Other shows in this category include ITV’s Holiday Showdown, Oxygen’s The Bad Girls Club (lifestyles and actions), and Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire. Faking It was a series where people had to learn a new skill and pass themselves off as experts in that skill. Shattered was a controversial 2004 UK series where contestants competed for how long they could go without sleep.
Another type of reality programming features hidden cameras rolling when random passers-by encounter a staged situation. Candid Camera, which first aired on television in 1948, pioneered the format. Modern variants of this type of production include Punk’d, Trigger Happy TV, Primetime: What Would You Do?,The Jamie Kennedy Experiment and Just For Laughs Gags. The seriesScare Tactics and Room 401 are hidden-camera programs in which the goal is to frighten contestants rather than just befuddle or amuse them.
Not all hidden camera shows use strictly staged situations. For example, the syndicated show Cheaters, purports to use hidden cameras to record suspected cheating partners, although the authenticity of the show has been questioned. Once the evidence has been gathered, the accuser confronts the cheating partner with the assistance of the host. In many special-living documentary programs, hidden cameras are set up all over the residence in order to capture moments missed by the regular camera crew, or intimate bedroom footage.
Supernatural and paranormal
Supernatural and paranormal reality shows such as MTV’s Fear, place participants into frightening situations which ostensibly involve the paranormal. In series such as Celebrity Paranormal Project, the stated aim is investigation, and some series like Scariest Places on Earth challenge participants to survive the investigation; whereas others such as Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters use a recurring crew of paranormal researchers. Shows such as Fear Factor and Scare Tactics dispense with supernatural overtones and aim solely at inciting fear or aversion in the cast. In general, the shows follow similar stylized patterns of night vision, surveillance, and hand held camera footage; odd angles; subtitles establishing place and time; desaturated imagery; rapid fire, MTV editing; and non-melodic soundtracks.
Noting the trend in reality shows that take the paranormal at face value, The New York Times culture editor Mike Hale characterized ghost hunting shows as “pure theater” and compared the genre to professional wrestling or soft core pornography for its formulaic, teasing approach.
In hoax reality shows, a false premise is presented to some of the series participants. In truth, the premise of the series is completely different. The rest of the cast are actors who are in on the joke. These shows often served to parody the conventions of the reality TV genre. Operation Repo is another show that uses this. They say it’s reality but it really isn’t because it is staged. The first such show was 2003’s The Joe Schmo Show. Other examples are My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss (modeled after The Apprentice), My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, Hell Date (modeled after Blind Date), Superstar USA (modeled after American Idol), Bedsitcom (modeled after Big Brother), Space Cadets (which convinced the hoax targets that they were being flown into space), Punk’d(involving celebrities in staged crises), Invasion Iowa (in which a town was convinced that William Shatner was filming a movie there), and Reality Hell (different target and premise every episode).
Other shows, though not hoax shows per se, have offered misleading information to some cast members in order to add a wrinkle to the competition. Examples include Boy Meets Boy and Joe Millionaire.
India’s Got Talent is the Indian franchise of the Got Talent series, and is a cooperative effort between India’s TV channel Colors and Britain’s FremantleMedia. The first episode of India’s Got Talent premiered on June 27, 2009. India’s Got Talent follows the global Got Talent format, in which contestants audition in front of three judges and a studio audience. Up until the semifinal and final rounds, the judges decide whether or not a contestant advances in the competition. During the semifinal and final rounds, viewers vote on which contestants will advance. It is the first Got Talent format show in Asia, and India’s first large-scale televised entertainment variety show, intending to showcase India’s best unknown acts and talents. The show travels to different cities across India in search of interesting local talent. The show has no age limit for contestants. Singing, music, dance, impersonation, puppetry, and illusion are all common areas of talent; however, any talent is allowed to compete. The winner receives a cash prize of 5 million rupees (equivalent to approximately US$105,000) and a Maruti Suzuki Ritz. India’s Got Talent is now credited to be Asia’s biggest talent show. China will have its version (and the first) only from July 2010 onwards.
Manish Paul (2012-)
Cyrus Sahukar (2012-)
Nikhil Chinapa (2009-10)
Ayushmann Khurrana (2009-10)
Meiyang Chang (2011)
Gautam Rode (2011)
Karan Johar (2012-)
Farah Khan (2012-)
Sonali Bendre (2009-11)
Shekhar Kapoor (2009)
Sajid Khan (2010)
Dharmendra Deol (2011)
Country of origin
No. of seasons
The winning act of the first season of India’s Got Talent was of the Prince Dance Group from Berhampur, Orissa. The group of 56 performed a dance inspired by the Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatara.
The winning act of the second season of India’s Got Talent was the Shillong Chamber Choir from Shillong, Meghalaya. The Choir is led by Neil Nongkynrieh, an accomplished pianist. Footage of the Bir Khalsa Group’s performance (popularly known to foreigners as the “Warriors of Goja”), involving extreme feats of physical resistance and pain suppression, became an internet phenomenon in late 2011.
Shillong Chamber Choir is an Indian chamber choir based in Shillong; founded in 2001, it shot to fame after it won the a reality talent show,India’s Got Talent (Season 2) in October 2010, on Colors TV, part of the Got Talent franchise, where it performed western chorals, as well as choral-style revamps of Hindi film (Bollywood) classics.
The choir participated in the 6th World Choir Games held at Shaoxing China (Shanghai) in July 2010 and was awarded Gold in all three categories: Musica Sacra, Gospel and Popular.
The choir made its debut performance at Pinewood Hotel in Shillong, dubbed as rock capital of India on 14 and 15 January 2001, with Neil Nongkynrih, a concert pianist as their conductor, and continued performing ever since. Nongkynrih studied at the Guild Hall School of Music and Trinity College, London, and thereafter worked as a concert pianist for 13 years in Europe, before returning to Shillong in Meghalaya and starting the choir with local youth.
Today, it has 25 members including 15 singers, and other musicians and soloist, apart from conductor Nongkynrih. The choir’s repertoire includes works of western classical music, including Handel, Bach, Gershwin and Mozart, from hits by rock group Queen, and Khasi folk songs and opera. Over the years it has performed in Britain, Poland, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Italy and the Indian cities of Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Guwahati. In 2008 The Shillong Chamber Choir, a short film, was directed by Bollywood scriptwriter Urmi Juvekar, sponsored by Government of India.
The choir performed with the visiting Vienna Chamber Orchestra in March 2009 at Shillong and Kolkata, and was invited to perform in Sri Lanka. In July 2010, the choir was selected by ICCRfor a Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDoNER) sponsored trip to participate at the 6th World Choir Games (“Choir Olympics”) held at Shaoxing China (Shanghai), where it was a lone Indian group amidst over 8,
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