How real are reality shows?

Business Communication ROI

By Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, ABC

Thursday, July 25, 2013

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IT is the guilty pleasure of many of us with a seriously itchy 'remote finger'. Yes, your secret's out, we know that you like to clandestinely channel-surf and flick on to watch your favourite Kardashian, Bridezilla or Honey Boo Boo, our modern-day, entrepreneurs of the self, live their lives out loud and sometimes brawling on the silver screen.

I am reading an abstract from an article in Bloomberg Business Week in May, focusing on a lawsuit against cable network Art and Entertainment (A&E) by actor Dave Hester and his claims that the reality television show, 'Storage Wars' is a fraud. According to the article, "Reality TV producers defend their shows' manipulations on different grounds -- that they don't cloud the most important aspect of the series, the participants' personalities.

"Lenid Rolov, an executive producer for seasons of The Hills, Real Housewives, and many other shows, says, "People would be surprised how real it actually is. The people we follow can't really hide who they are, what they're about, and how they feel about things. Though a show like The Hills might feel scripted, because it's meant to look like 90210, you're still getting a strong sense of who each person is and the true dynamics of their relationships." Doron Ofir, who's cast several reality shows, including Jersey Shore and RuPaul's Drag Race, also insists that however contrived the situations are, people are behaving in an authentic way. "Something that makes me crazy is when cast members say, 'They edited me to be this character,' like Omarosa's famous line," he says. "Ten years later, you know Omarosa is what she is."

Reality shows are television shows which see participants, the ordinary folks or perhaps celebrities (usually child stars who have fallen on hard-times wanting to make a come-back), go through a series of real life or scripted incidents. My initial research reveals that reality shows had their genesis in the 1940s in line with the creation of television broadcasting. Bet you didn't know that there are umpteen types of Reality shows masquerading across your TV Guide as we speak.

Well, firstly, there is your garden variety talent show, in which ordinary people with hidden talents get an opportunity to showcase their singing, dancing or other dubious 'talents' and are judged by a panel of judges or else the rest of us, texting in our votes. The prize: a record deal, oftentimes fleeting fame and then a quick disappearance into your backyard, right into oblivion. Mark you, it might have been best for the world at large if the talents of some former unknowns had remained firmly and deeply buried, but everyone deserves their one red hot minute of fame and fortune. So, in the past we had 'The Gong Show' (1976) and in more recent times, American television and Simon Cowell, gave our viewing pleasure gems such as 'American Idol', 'America's got Talent'. Not to be outdone, we here had our own homegrown 'Dancin ' Dynamos' and 'Digicel's Rising Stars'. The spin-offs from this one seemingly resides on every continent, Canadian idol, Philippine Idol and Australian Idol, to name a few.

Then there are the reality game shows where participants like you and me compete to prove our intellect or physical prowess, and we emerge being 'The Donald's' Apprentice, "Smarter Than a Fifth Grader' or come out the 'Biggest Loser' after a series of humiliating courses of training by a physical trainer spawned from the bowels of hell. One wonders how many of those thousands of pounds lost just upped and fled as a result of the humiliation of seeing those revealing tights-clad bodies in all their rotund glory, on the silver screen.

There are two sides to the coin of these weight loss shows. On the one hand, viewers like you and me receive inspiration and motivation from watching as we receive knowledge about weight loss and the importance of exercise to a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, if we are not careful we might be led to believe the lie of the ease with which the participants achieve their weight-loss goals. Kindly bear in mind that they are basically on a crash diet for the series and have the highly paid assistance of trainers, nutritionists and psychologists. We, on the other hand, live in the Real World which offers us the best in nutrition from the food cart down the road, friends who might be mercilessly critical of our poundage and the un-winking eye of our bedroom mirror.

The best and perhaps the 'more real' of the reality shows is the Hidden Camera show where participants' activities (again humiliating and sometimes humorous) are filmed without their knowledge for the benefit of product sponsors. So Cheaters, You Got Punk'd or 'Deal With It' puts you on the spot when you are caught being naughty on camera. Then there are the adventure shows, where we are challenged to overcome a challenge, 'Fear Factor' Survivor or WipeOut. Let us not forget the Paranormal Shows in which participants are placed in so-called terror-filled situations (Ghost Hunters) which are claimed to be 'paranormal'. Your guess is as good as mine as to why anyone with two cents knocking around in their heads would want to voluntarily participate in such a nonsensical mockery.

Then there is my all-time favourite reality show, the 'factual' television show which presents in a one-hour documentary the edited life of the reality stars as they go about their 'normal' everyday life. Clumsily filled with product placement and over-branding, these shows go over the top to pull us into the lifestyle of the rich and famous. So they have us trying to keep up with the cloyingly false lives of the Kardashians (and their seventy-two day marriage) or rubberneck the phony Real Housewives of Atlanta and wonder what wouldn't people do for money.

"Like the Scarecrow who wants brains, the Tinman who wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion who wants courage, we all travel down the Yellow Brick Road in search of a desirable form." (Organisational & Social Dynamics (2013) Perhaps, the reality shows are modern-day psychic vehicles which take us down our own personal yellow brick road.

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, (MBA, ABC) is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communications and financial publications. She can be contacted at: Visit her website at and post your comments.




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