Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television

By Annette Hill | Go to book overview
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Chapter 2

The rise of reality TV

Successful reality TV series such as Survivor or Big Brother are marketed as 'all new' - new concepts, new formats, new experiences. Few television shows are 'all new'. But it is certainly the case that reality programmes draw from existing television genres and formats to create novel hybrid programmes. 'Factual entertainment' is a category commonly used within the television industry for popular factual television, and the category indicates the marriage of factual programming, such as news or documentary, with fictional programming, such as gameshows or soap opera. Indeed, almost any entertainment programme about real people comes under the umbrella of popular factual television. Reality TV is a catch-all category, and popular examples of reality programming, such as Changing Rooms (BBC, 1996-), Cops (Fox, 1988-), Animal Hospital (BBC, 1993-), Airport (BBC, 1996-), Popstars (ITV, 2001-), or The Osbournes (MTV, 2002-), draw on a variety of genres to create ratings winners. It is no wonder that media owner Rupert Murdoch has launched a reality TV channel - there is something for everyone in the reality genre. 1

The historical development of popular factual television is multifaceted and worthy of a book-length study. There is a growing body of literature that provides excellent analysis of crime reporting (e.g. Fishman and Cavender 1998; Palmer 2003), tabloid journalism (e.g. Langer 1998), documentary (e.g. Nichols 1994, Winston 1995, Corner 1995, Bruzzi 2000, Kilborn 2003, amongst others), docu-drama/drama-doc (e.g. Paget 1998), and mock documentary (e.g. Roscoe and Hight 2001), all of which have a role to play in the development of reality programming. In this chapter, I can only touch on historical, cultural and industrial contexts, as my main intention is to provide an overview of the rise of reality TV throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Out of necessity, my overview is selective, and more detailed discussion of specific formats and theoretical insights into popular factual programming occur in later chapters.

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