Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television

By Annette Hill | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

The reality genre

The category of reality TV is commonly used to describe a range of popular factual programming. There are a variety of styles and techniques associated with reality TV, such as non-professional actors, unscripted dialogue, surveillance footage, hand-held cameras, seeing events unfold as they are happening in front of the camera. However, the treatment of 'reality' in reality programming has changed as the genre has developed over the past decade. In the early stages of the genre, reality TV was associated with on-scene footage of law and order, or emergency services. More recently, reality TV is associated with anything and everything, from people to pets, from birth to death. So, how do we categorise this diverse genre? In this chapter, I outline the contradictory and at times confusing terms used by the television industry, scholars and audiences to describe a genre in transition. Jason Mittell (2001:19-20) argues for an examination of television genres as 'cultural categories, unpacking the processes of definition, interpretation, and evaluation that constitute these categories' in order to better understand 'how genres work to shape our media experiences'.

The process of categorising reality TV highlights the inherent problems for the television industry, scholars and audiences in defining a genre that by its very nature is concerned with multiple generic participation, and constant regeneration. Robert Allen (1989), in his discussion of soap opera, talked about the limits of a genre in relation to the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction in television soap operas. Similarly, Bill Nichols (1994), in his book on documentary, Blurred Boundaries, discussed the limits of the genre reality TV. In the following sections, discussion by the television industry, scholars and audiences highlights the border crossing of factual/fictional television, and the limits of the 'reality' genre.


TELEVISION INDUSTRY

The television industry is a good place to chart the changing genre of reality TV. Television thrives on new formats, and, as the previous

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Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vi
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Chapter 1 - Understanding Reality TV 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Rise of Reality TV 14
  • Chapter 3 - The Reality Genre 41
  • Chapter 4 - Performance and Authenticity 57
  • Chapter 5 - The Idea of Learning 79
  • Chapter 6 - Ethics of Care 108
  • Chapter 7 - Pet Deaths 135
  • Chapter 8 - Story of Change 170
  • Appendix 1 194
  • Appendix 2 197
  • Notes 207
  • Bibliography 214
  • Index 224
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