Since The Real World first debuted on MTV back in 1992, reality TV has been a rash on the rear end of television that we can never seem to medicate enough to clear up. By this point, it’s become a full on plague that is beyond quarantine in need of some serious cleansing fire. But what is it about this viral infection of modern television that keeps so hooked on it that we never take our medicine?
I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that I’ve never watched reality TV. Many times I have found myself watching more reality TV than I should. There’s some that I’m not ashamed of (Battle for Ozzfest, King of the Nerds, Hardcore Pawn) and some I’m not proud of at all (Teen Mom 2, Honey Boo Boo, Real World). I would like to note that I’ve seen only one episode of Honey Boo Boo and that was enough for me. That show is the epitome of “train wreck television.”
For myself, as well as for many others, television is a form of escape. A way to take yourself out of your head and enter a whole new world and go on exciting new adventures but reality TV takes away the magic of it all. It takes you out of your normal, everyday life and puts you into a different person’s completely screwed up life while the show you why they’re screwed up week after week. All you can do is sit and watch in disbelief, thinking to yourself “How can one person be that messed up?” and never really leaving you with a definitive answer.
Take for example any season of The Real World. MTV had the bright idea to put a bunch of strangers in a house together, all with different backgrounds and beliefs, add copious amounts of alcohol, and see what happened. What happened was a lot of sex, drama, and fighting, which is what sells on most, if not all, networks. Many others saw the potential of the format and followed suit. Survivor, The Bachelor, Big Brother, Jersey Shore, Rock of Love, Sister Wives, and hundreds more quickly crowded the airwaves and engrossed many unsuspecting viewers. Ratings soared, unwanted trends took hold of the population, and the quality of television sunk to a new low point.
Networks found it was easier to install cameras in a house and/or follow people around and film their “lives” than it was to hire actors, build sets, make costumes, write scripts, and do all the other things it takes to make a scripted television show. It was also cheaper, which meant if the show was a success and they could sell the hell out of it, they made a lot more money. But is it really worth it?
MTV is a perfect example of the real “cost” of reality TV. MTV was a groundbreaking network back in its day, the first to introduce music videos to the public. A new format for music artists to be seen as well as heard. Seasoned artists as well as up-and-comers used MTV to boost album sales and get their names, faces, and music out to more people than radio ever could. MTV was responsible for launching the careers of countless numbers of artists but nowadays, viewers struggle to find a music video on their channel and all because of reality TV. And by eliminating music videos from their programming and replacing them with reality TV shows, they’ve managed to alienate a large number of their viewers only to replace them with a new flock of younger viewers. Still the same name but not the same MTV.
TLC, Bravo, and many other networks have all started following MTV’s example and are quickly on their way to leaving behind the programming themes they began with in order to bring in higher ratings and rake in the bigger bucks. So what is it that draws people in and keeps them watching these shows? One reasons is the entertainment value, slight as it may be. Viewers get some form of enjoyment watching the subjects of the shows making complete fools of themselves in whatever they may do. The more of an idiot the subject appears to be, the more the viewers will watch. Another reason would be that the shows make the viewers feel better about themselves. No matter how screwed up the subject of the show is, the viewer feels that they are nowhere near as screwed up as them. It makes them feel as though their problems aren’t as bad as they thought they might be. In some cases, the viewer might even connect with the subjects of the shows. Depending on the topic of the show, the viewer may be able to form some sort of bond and that’s what keeps them hooked. So where scripted television can be an escape for viewers by taking them into a new, fantasy world that they aren’t accustom to, reality tv is more of a grounded escape that connects them to somewhat realistic people.
But is that slight sense of a connection worth the degradation of quality television? Personally, I say no. While I have found a few reality shows that are actually worth watching, I would much rather be watching scripted television. I enjoy the characters and their adventures and lives and the escape that comes with the show. I enjoy losing myself in the story of the show. I can’t do that with a reality show. Most of what I get is anger and frustration from seeing how stupid some of the subjects can be. More often than not common sense is lost on these people and that’s what frustrates me most. If networks were to cancel all reality tv tomorrow, I wouldn’t shed a tear and I think the quantity of quality scripted television would greatly improve. The world might end up being a slightly better place because of it.
What are you thoughts on reality tv?