The debate about what is real and what is not is the million-dollar question for popular factual television. In this chapter, I explore the twin issues of performance and authenticity, as the performance of non-professional actors often frames discussion about the authenticity of visual evidence in popular factual television. The way real people and their stories are represented on television is closely connected to how we judge the truthfulness of visual evidence. To invoke the work of Brian Winston (1995), 'claiming the real' is a common practice of reality programming, but there is little interrogation of these truth claims in the programmes themselves. Television audiences are certainly aware of the ways television 'puts reality together' (Schlesinger 1978), and talk about how various formats, or editing techniques, can create different degrees of 'reality' in popular factual television. However, viewers of reality programming are most likely to talk about the truth of what they are seeing in relation to the way real people act in front of television cameras. The more ordinary people are perceived to perform for the cameras, the less real the programme appears to be to viewers. Thus, performance becomes a powerful framing device for judging reality TV's claims to the real. And television audiences are highly sceptical of the truth claims of much reality programming precisely because they expect people to 'act up' in order to make entertaining factual television.
At the heart of the debate about the reality of reality TV is a paradox: the more entertaining a factual programme is, the less real it appears to viewers. Corner notes 'the legacy of documentary is still at work' in popular factual television, but in 'partial and revised' form (2002a: 260). The partial and revised factual elements of reality TV are borrowed from documentary genres, such as observational documentary, and serve to put the factual into popular factual television. As Corner explains: the 'documentary imperative' is used as a 'vehicle variously for the high-