Week 11-12, Reality TV – Question One

In what ways has the genre of  reality television been lost through the hybridization and diversification of programmes?

Modern reality TV seems to be a blend of dramatic, competition and/or factual narratives all into one show. This genre also seems to mix entertainment with a very over fantasized discourse about ‘real-life’. There are two major ways that this genre has been lost through the hybridization and diversification of programmes. The first, being through production techniques of reality TV shows such as production techniques and the second being the audience and what they like seeing on TV.

One of the ways that reality TV has been lost is through production and camera techniques. Reality TV has roots in other more established genres such as documentary and soap opera-type media and techniques from those separate genres have contributed and have been adopted by reality TV. According to Hill, the development of reality TV is a great example of how television, to survive, draws upon existing genres to create a hybrid programme which eventually becomes distinct enough to be considered a genre of its own (2005, pg 23-24). For example, in relation to documentary-type media, modern-day reality TV uses a mixture of techniques from the USA, the French and the British. Direct Cinema (early USA type documentaries) were more observational, with no analysis of what was occurring as well as more intimate. While the French Cinema Verite was more concerned with creating a relationship with the subject matter, so viewers would often see an interviewer or a cameraperson appearing in the frame and interacting with the subject. Also, British Cinema brought forward a focus on the everyday mundane life. All these elements and techniques used by early cinema and TV documentary have sculpted the way reality TV is made now and can also be seen in reality TV-styled shows such as Cathy Come Home (which is considered as a docu-drama). While Cathy Come Home has paid actors in, it mimicked a reality show in the sense that it paid attention to a mundane aspect of life (homelessness and family), there were close-ups of the characters allowing the audience to feel a connection to the subjects and so on. Additionally, Lamb mentioned that “reality television has overtaken the docudrama as the most popular form of television programming combining documentary and drama” (2016, pg 6). So, without a doubt, reality TV has been greatly influenced by those techniques mentioned above and thus, has become lost through this diversification and hybridization as it becomes mixed with other genres.

Another reason why reality TV has been lost could be because the audience dictates a reasonable amount of what reality TV show creators can successfully produce. Regardless of how good or bad a reality TV show is, ultimately, it is the audience which decides if the show is entertaining enough to keep airing on TV. Since it has been established in the previous paragraph that reality TV shows constantly reinvent themselves and are a mixture of different genres; one of the reasons they do this is to stay interesting to their public audience. Reality TV shows tend to put ordinary people in unrealistic situations – such as Survivor where the contestants are taken to an isolated island and are expected to survive without modern comforts as well as compete in sports activities as well. Survivor itself is a combination of sports TV, tabloid, competition as well as confessional and dramatic. All those elements and genres are put into one reality show and thus there are various factors in the show which attract audiences. This idea is supported by Brent and Cohen who stated that (concerning the show Big Brother) viewers enjoyed watching people living without modern comforts and of hearing the contestants thoughts on different events (Hill, 2001, cited in Brenton and Cohen, 2003). And so to conclude, the mixture of other genres as well as the audience, play a role as to how the reality TV genre has been lost.

Brenton, S., & Cohen, R. (2003). Shooting People: Adventures in Reality TV. New York: Verso.

Hill, A. (2005). Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. London: Routledge.

Lamb, B. (2016). Cathy Come Off Benefits: A comparative ideological analysis of Cathy Come Home and Benefits Street. Journalism and Discourse Studies, (2), 2-21. 

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