Whatever way you want to look at it, reality television is the most genious concept ever to take over pop culture. Our feelings about the new-age genre are essentially unimportant because the world is addicted. We may not know exactly why we find this form of entertainment so captivating but it’s undeniably an art form. Yes – an art form. The beauty about reality television is that the genre can be accessible to all television consumers regardless of their age or gender. Reality tv can manifest itself in an infinite number of forms whether that be a competition show like “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here” or a show documenting the lives of real people like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”, there is essentially something for everyone. It’s the behind the scenes work carried out by the producers and the participants alike that truly makes reality television an art.
Firstly, every reality show worth its salt will have a “villain”. The villain plays a crucial role because so much of the storyline and drama comes from the villain’s interaction with the rest of the group. Every good reality show has one. The villain is an essential character if a reality show is to be successful, and it’s not just in shows focusing around groups like “Jersey Shore” or “The Real Housewives” but we’ll even have seen the role of the villain in shows like “The X-Factor” – without the critically cruel Simon Cowell the singing competition would fade into oblivion. Producers like to label participants with different roles so the show will naturally take the form of a scripted drama, almost like a hybrid of reality and fiction. Producers will sit down with cast members and tell them that they want them to take on the role of the villain and naturally, people jump at this opportunity because the villain is guaranteed more air time. For example, reality tv fans will remember the incident where Brandi Glanville from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” threw a glass of wine in the face of American soap actress Eileen Davidson for no fathomable reason. Later when quizzed on why she threw the glass, Glanville claimed that she was worried that the season had been really boring so far and she thought if she didn’t start some drama soon then the show would’ve been axed and everyone would have been out of a job. This insight into how cast members themselves are aware of the need for an exciting storyline really highlights how many unseen levels there are to a reality show. Just look at new father Gaz Beadle, him and his notorious parsnip have given Geordie Shore countless storylines in every season since the show’s conception in 2011.
The producers push cast members to sit down and talk about their feelings so that even the smallest altercation can get drawn out for an entire season if not longer. American reality television has mastered this concept. Any of you who watch American reality shows from “Wags Miami” to “RuPaul’s Drag Race” will notice that after every major fight one person will always extend an olive branch, for example, one will receive a text inviting the other to lunch often as soon as the day after the altercation. Why? Well producers push the cast into meeting up and offering the stars an opportunity to express their feelings which 9/10 times results in another fight and a deepening of wounds. This is great for producers because it means that they can draw out a storyline. Filming can cost thousands a day so a three minute fight is worth much more to producers than an 18 hour day of filming people around a pool. That way the producers can save money and the stars can shorten the amount of time they have to spend filming that day and go back to their normal lives.
Almost every reality show has a reunion after the finale which is usually broken into three episodes. The participants are contractually obliged to attend the reunion as it is a part of their filming contracts. A few days before filming for the reunion starts each cast member is sent a DVD summary of the season which they are obliged to watch. This is so that participants will see all the awful things said about them on the confessional cams to encourage confrontation at the reunion.
All this doesn’t mean that every reality show is entirely contrived and that you should cancel your Hayu subscription. While producers do like to help certain scenarios come to pass, a good producer will let the participants play things out on their own. Reality tv mogul Bravo’s Andy Cohen told “Attitude Magazine” that “It’s real. We cast very highly volatile, emotional, driven, opinionated women, and because of that, they go to town! And you sit down with them at the end of the season and they all have it out with each other…It’s really fun.”
People always play up for the cameras. You have to remember, at the end of the day, everyone is after a cheque. The stars who feature on reality television shows don’t always get paid the same amount and have to sign a non disclosure agreement about how much money they get. The people who get the most screentime will get paid the most, this really helps the producers get the most drama out of the group. The higher paid stars will be the ones who have a great storyline, a great shooting location and who add something more substantial to the show other than constant drama. Since you’re getting paid on the amount of time you spend on the screen you can understand why some people exaggerate their personalities. Take Paris Hilton for example, when shooting “The Simple Life” with then bff Nicole Richie, Hilton admitted that she created an exaggerated version of herself because it made good TV. She was right.
There are so many levels to reality television that we’re not always aware of. With clever producing work coinciding with the awareness of the cast, reality television is the theatre of millennials. My opinion? Reality television should have its own category at the Oscars.
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