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]