Week Eleven: Reality TV

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

In order to analyse the ways the genre of Reality TV (RTV) has been lost due to hybridisation and diversification, we must first look at it how it began and how it was originally defined. 

RTV’s inception was largely influenced by the documentary genre of film. The term documentary was coined and defined by John Grier in 1926, as “the creative treatment of actuality”. As a genre attempting to portray itself as authentically ‘real’, RTV creators have borrowed various techniques from documentary in order to strengthen the ‘real-ness’ of their shows. This includes elements such as hand-held cameras, interviews or confessions and voice-over narration. Although being heavily influenced stylistically by documentary, the RTV genre has been defined as genre that “gets its name not for being true to everyday conditions, but for the fact that it uses real people, albeit in exceptional situations, and focuses on their personalities and individual dramas” (Kavka, 2012, p. 233). From this definition we can understand RTV as a genre that incorporates real people as the fundamental element. However, as more and more types of RTV have been created over the years through hybridisation and  diversification, the genre has become somewhat lost in amongst the staggering variety of RTV programmes that currently exist.

RTV shows are perpetually being created and recreated all the time. Hill (2005) sums this up by stating, “The development of reality programming is an example of how television cannibalises itself in order to survive, drawing upon existing genres to create successful hybrid programmes, which in turn generate a new television genre” (p. 23-24). This can be exemplified in an RTV show like Survivor (2005), which is a mixture of tabloid journalism, game show/talk show, soap operas, sports tv, documentary as well as leisure and instructional programming. From the perspective of Hill (2005) we can identify RTV as a permanently changing genre underpinned by its hybridisation of other genres. By combining so many elements from other genres, it makes it difficult to accurately define RTV as a genre on its own. As a result it is more easily described as a fluid variant of many other genres, rather than an outright genre.

The diversification of RTV has also impacted the ability to understand it as its own genre. Kavka (2012) expresses the idea that there are so many types of RTV, that a “generic haziness” has been created. The issue here is that while all these shows fall under the category of RTV, the shows themselves can vary wildly in terms of the subject matter, how they are produced, who the audience is and so on. Evidently, subgenres are created that more accurately define an RTV show, but the constant widening of the RTV umbrella has diluted its definition as a genre. Types of RTV include doco-soaps, game shows, hidden camera, talk shows, emergency services, cooking, medical, makeover and the list is always growing. Examples that demonstrate the broadness of RTV, even just in New Zealand include, Gone Fishin’, First Dates NZ, Police 10-7, Celebrity Treasure Island, My Kitchen Rules and Grand Designs NZ. Lorenzo-Dus and Blitvich (2013) sum up the rampantly growing nature of RTV genre by stating “It started out as a genre, but it has certainly evolved into a discourse” (p. 11).

The hybridisation and diversification of RTV programming has played a definitive role in the genre’s rapid expansion. At the same time they have also made it difficult to settle on the definition of RTV as a genre, as new subgenres are constantly being created. Subsequently RTV as an overarching genre has lost meaning as subgenres and newer variations provide more accurate representations of RTV programming.     


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

Kavka, M. (2012). Reality TV. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University

Press.Lorenzo-Dus, N & Blitvich, P. (2013). Real Talk – Reality television and Discourse Analysis in Action. Basingstoke, UK:  Palgrave Macmillan.

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