On May 31, 2000, a show by the name of Survivor hit the TV screen. It’s been on for 6 years. On June 11, 2002, another show by the name of American Idol debuted. It seems to get bigger and bigger every year. Add to these two shows like Fear Factor, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and a ton of others and you have the biggest TV craze since Dallas and the string of night time soaps. The question is, why all the fuss? What is it about reality TV that makes more people tune into some shows than vote in presidential elections? We may not have the reasons but we’re going to examine some of the possibilities.
To understand the fuss with reality TV you first have to understand what it is. Supposedly, it’s TV that features real people instead of actors. In other words, your every day John and Jane Doe. It’s hard not to root for your next door neighbor unless he’s blasting the stereo at 2 AM and you’re trying to get some sleep. So yes, it’s easy to understand that you’re pulling for the little guy here. Somebody who under normal circumstances would be working at a Burger King somewhere and not on national TV during prime time. But there has to be more than just that. After all, most people are pretty dull to watch, especially doing every day things.
Well, reality TV is far from every day. When you have shows like Fear Factor where people eat bugs or shows like Survivor where people are stranded on islands for weeks on end, the term “every day” is the farthest thing from what these shows are. If anything, most reality TV is more bizarre than your typical TV sitcom. And maybe that is part of the allure. Seeing real people in totally unreal situations and watching them turn into TV stars. And if you think none of them do turn into stars, do the names Richard Hatch and Clay Aiken mean anything to you?
But maybe the biggest allure of reality TV is to see just how far these shows will go. Because they are depending on real people for their entertainment, they have to come up with some pretty far out scenarios and concepts to keep our attention. Let’s face it, for every Richard Hatch there are a hundred nobodies who’s names you’ll never remember, let alone their performances, if you can call them that. Many a fan skips the first few weeks of American Idol just to get past all the horrible singers that they’d normally have to endure. If it weren’t for Simon, the show would be unwatchable at times.
And maybe the reason reality TV is so big is because we simply have nothing better to do with our time and we look for any excuse to sit in front of the tube and watch whatever is on. Sure, some reality television is pretty good, but there is quite a bit of it that leaves a lot to be desired as far as entertainment value. Yet, we keep coming back week after week.
There must be something to it. One day we just might figure out what it is.