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Reality TV: It’s Here to Stay

11/04/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Reality TV is not a recent phenomenon. Reality TV has a pedigree. It is an established form of entertainment. It is, you can safely say, a 'survivor.’

In the 1970s, we witnessed Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts poke fun and embarrass real people, Hollywood’s finest. Are we now not doing the same to Jessica and Nick? The Original Talent Hour first came on the TV screen in 1948, with Ted Mack as the genial host. Now, the latest iteration is American Idol, with Simon Cowell as a curmudgeon. Also debuting in 1948 was Candid Camera, headed by Allen Funt, who might be considered the inventor of reality TV. In the 1990s, there was America’s Funniest Home Videos, with Bob Saget. Now, you have the Average Joe, My Big Fat Boss and Last Comic Standing. Even The Price Is Right, on the air for 30 years, is reality TV, beaming the agony and ecstasy of its contestants into our living rooms daily.

Talk shows, game shows, hidden cameras, Webcams … reality is nothing new. It just has evolved into many more forms. People question how far we can go with reality TV, now that it has spawned shows that involve wife-swapping or the biggest losers extant.

Sure, it can be startling. Who could have predicted 50 years ago that millions would be tuning in to watch young men jump in sewage or couples divorce on television? But this, you can also say, is a natural evolution in viewing habits. If we can shop from our living rooms, why should we leave our sofas to satisfy our vicarious needs?

Reality TV will continue to march towards extremism. Conflict and sexual content will increase as each show strives to go one step further than the next. Reality has never been a static medium; it is constantly in a state of flux — a fact highlighted by weekly reality commission announcements in trade press.

And it’ll get more interactive. Viewers may be participants — when reality TV meets the Internet, it is sure to offer content far in advance of what has been seen to date. As new media open themselves up and Web content continues to grow, reality programming will even bypass buyers — like cable and broadcast networks — and go straight to viewers.

Are you ready for the video equivalent of Web logs?

Anyone will soon be able to broadcast their own version of The Newlywed Game, or “Newlyweds on the Net.” The quantity of reality TV will explode, though the quality may not. Nonetheless, with the rise of new media, no longer will networks dictate what content suits what demographic.

Reality TV is here to stay. The question is how you as a distributor or a programmer or a media agency stay part of its reality. Rest assured — in 30 years, Nick and Jessica will be gracing screens in Newly Retired and audiences young and old will be tuning in.

“Good night, George. Good night, Gracie.”

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