Introduction to Reality TV

HumanitiesReality TV
Humanities, Art, and MusicReality TV

Transcript

00:16

And we have with us Deb Tennen,

00:17

who actually runs our creative department here at Shmoop.

00:20

And she is a PHD in literature,

00:22

a published author in People magazine,

00:25

and also is a regular subscriber to --

00:29

- Where are you a subscriber to? - Entertainment Weekly.

00:31

Entertainment Weekly. That probably qualifies her best

00:34

to discourse on this topic.

00:36

The challenge is that reality television has taken over our lives in a lot of ways.

00:40

It accounts for about a third of the television programming on today,

00:44

and it's growing very fast.

00:46

So we're gonna talk about reality television from a few different perspectives

00:49

and have Deb sort of enlighten us

00:51

from the way that she sees things

00:53

from reality television as literature.

00:57

[ dog barks ]

00:57

What are the origins of reality television?

01:01

Reality TV can be dated as far back as Candid Camera.

01:05

Candid Camera

01:07

with Allen Funt

01:09

starring you, the people.

01:12

Welcome to the Candid Camera program,

01:14

which brings you secretly made movies

01:15

of all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.

01:18

Which was in 1948,

01:20

which most people know because there's been a lot of

01:22

reboots of it.

01:23

Hidden cameras, watching people do silly things.

01:26

And that's considered reality TV

01:28

because it's non-celebrities being put in unscripted situations.

01:32

But reality TV as we think of it today

01:34

really started more with The Real World.

01:36

In the 90s, put people in a house and see what happens.

01:39

Have them do stupid stuff

01:41

and hear what they have to say about it.

01:43

And the irony that it was called The Real World...

01:45

When reality TV started, it actually was pretty real.

01:48

Even the first few seasons of Survivor,

01:49

which started in 2000,

01:51

were pretty much unscripted.

01:53

Today you'd be hard-pressed to find

01:55

any reality show that is not, in some way at least, constructed.

01:58

[ bird caws ]

01:59

Does reality TV have a script?

02:02

Well, there's not a script in the way that you would think of a script for a sitcom.

02:06

They do have producers and writers

02:08

feeding them at least conversation topics

02:10

if not actual lines to say.

02:13

They put them in specific situations

02:15

and they give them conversation topics

02:17

knowing exactly where that's gonna lead.

02:19

So then, what's the casting process like?

02:21

It seems like all these people are lunatics

02:23

or trying to become stars, I guess. Does that ever work?

02:27

Absolutely it does work.

02:28

People become stars from reality TV all the time.

02:31

Elizabeth Hasselbeck, I think her name is,

02:34

who hosted The View

02:34

started as a contestant on Survivor.

02:36

There are tons of people on these food cooking shows

02:40

that become celebrity chefs because of it.

02:42

The casting process has changed a lot

02:43

since the beginning of reality TV,

02:45

since the early Survivor/Real World days.

02:47

It used to be that you would do a video interview

02:49

and show how kooky and weird you were

02:51

and then they'd say,

02:52

"Oh, this is an interesting personality.

02:53

Let's get them in the house."

02:54

Now most casting is actually producers going out

02:58

and finding failed actors and actresses

03:00

in Southern California and saying,

03:02

"You're hot. You're hot.

03:03

You can string a sentence together.

03:07

Let's put you, like you said, on an island

03:09

and see what happens."

03:10

I think the most recent season of Survivor

03:13

only had one auditioned person

03:17

cast on the show.

03:18

Everyone else was recruited from

03:20

producers just going around finding them.

03:22

So if you're a producer,

03:24

you're looking for someone with

03:26

an emotionally volatile personality.

03:28

Maybe someone who's kind of an alcoholic?

03:30

- Like, what are you even looking... - Yeah. [ laughs ]

03:32

Well, there are definitely archetypes, right,

03:34

that you wanna hit.

03:35

So, yes, you want the person who's emotionally volatile

03:37

because that's gonna make everyone else freak out

03:39

and what you're looking for is the most drama possible.

03:41

You also want someone who's really dumb,

03:43

because part of the excitement of watching reality TV

03:47

is feeling superior to everyone who's on there.

03:49

So if you feel more competent than them, that's good.

03:51

You want someone who's incredibly smart,

03:53

someone who's incredibly hot.

03:55

But that every single person watching

03:56

can relate to one type of person

03:58

and hate one type of person.

04:01

So you bring up two interesting perspectives here.

04:03

One is that of the contestant.

04:06

What kind of low self esteem

04:08

they must have to wanna actually be on

04:09

one of these shows.

04:11

And the other is the audience

04:13

needing to feel superior

04:15

- to someone who's kind of loserly to start with. -Right.

04:18

Yeah, the contestants - the ones that we're talking about

04:20

that get recruited - are people who just want exposure.

04:23

These are the people who -- You watch The Bachelor,

04:25

these are the people who go on

04:27

even though they're in a relationship or whatever.

04:28

They just wanna get their music career going.

04:30

And they just wanna cause as much drama as possible

04:32

so that people remember their name and their face.

04:34

From the other side of it...

04:37

- From the audience perspective. - Yeah, we, I mean...

04:39

It's the same reason that you sit at the counter at Starbucks

04:42

and watch people go by

04:43

and think about how ugly her purse looks

04:45

and how that person could lose a few pounds and all that.

04:48

It's kind of that same thing of, you know,

04:50

the way we all do.

04:51

We judge people because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

04:53

And some people voice it and some people don't.

04:54

So that makes a lot of sense.

04:56

Has society become more compressive?

04:58

So that needing to feel superior

05:01

has become a bigger deal to us

05:03

as a mass?

05:04

I think as we grow as a society

05:07

that is more materialistic and more superficial,

05:09

of course we're gonna wanna think

05:10

that we're more beautiful and more intelligent than everyone else around us.