Cast22Reality v Drama

Reality television is a genre of television programming, which presents purportedly unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, documents actual events, and features ordinary people instead of professional actors.    Not usually to be confused with documentaries or news shows although there may be an argument to say it started with them.  It’s more likely their origins began with the 1948 program by Allen Funt called “Candid Camera” or the early games shows of the 1950s.  From these humble origins there grew an increasing number of similar shows which began to erode that sad little group of programs that fight for our attention known to some of us gathered here as “Scripted Drama”.  Reality TV as it is known today has made inroads into eroding the Market Share that Scripted Drama once held.

Sheer volume

First off,  if volume is any measure of Better, than Reality TV is getting the lion’s share.  Just look around on your TV guide and you will see quite a range of these innovations filling our screens.  Our last decade has seen them grow in number.

  • There are the “fly on the wall” Docu-soaps such as MTV’s Laguna Beach.
  • The specific Environment shows such as “Temptation Island or Survivor” series.
  • Celebrity Docos such as “Newly Weds” or “The Osbournes”
  • Professional Development Reality shows such as “The Restaurant” or “COPS”
  • Elimination Game Shows such as “The Weakest Link”
  • Dating Shows such as “Blind Date”
  • Career elimination shows, such as “The Apprentice”, “Idol”, “So you think you can Dance”
  • Sports eliminations shows such as “The Contender”
  • Renovations shows like “Backyard Blitz”
  • Makeover improvement shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”
  • Talk Shows such as the often controversial “Jerry Springer Show” or  “Judge Judy”
  • Hoax Shows such as “Punked”
  • Hidden Camera Shows such as “Scare Tactics”

The list goes on and on.  In fact it is getting harder to spot a Scripted Drama show on TV nowadays.  And so far I haven’t even mentioned “Big Brother”.   Let’s face it the only reason Scripted Drama survives at all is because it is a protected species. Protected by Government legislation and Community Largess.  Because that is what enforce “drama” quotas on stations, that they must fulfil, in order to remain in business.  Scripted Drama is sanctioned and supported by legislation and if these crutches were pulled out from underneath it.   ….   then it would fall to a heap on the floor to be swept under the carpet of the next Reality TV Show.


From a Management perspective, Reality TV is blow for streamlined management and direction, shorn of unnecessary frills and overheads.  The Director’s job is made easier as Actors are few and far between.


From a commercial profitability and business efficiency perspective, Reality TV is a triumph.  It has minimal overheads (no excessive Actors, Costuming,  or Sets).  Most times payment is not required or perhaps often only one of them has to be paid exorbitantly. Instead of having to pay Russel AND Nicole, there is only Guy Sebastian to pay off.


From an Advertising perspective, Reality TV provides large Audiences.  The high turn out for Audience voting demonstrates it’s relatively high popularity.  They often have a National following as Telstra’s profit books can tell you.  Remember the Western Australian controversy that was created when WA audiences claimed their vote in support of Sara-Marie Fedele wasn’t counted because of the time zone differences.

The studio

From the Studio’s Perspective, it’s much better.  Reality TV  does not have to cater for Actors Egos and high maintenance bills associated with top billing stars.  It avoids the divas like Jennifer Lopez, Russel Crowe, Lindsay Lowan that cost studios dearly.

[My thanks to Tom Lanni & Natalie Thurkettle for their contributions to this side of an argument]