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The Fiction of Reality TV - There's Nothing Real About Reality TV
By Larry Cox
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The the term they were probably much closer to literal accuracy. Yet, over time, the true reality of Reality TV has digressed into the all of the dismal abyss of a Jerry Springeresque docudrama.

The word reality is defined as the quality or state of being actual or true, or a real thing or fact. TV  (television) is self-evident. Combine the two and you get a definition something like actual, true, or real things on the television (TV).

Recently I came across the following “modern-day” definition, that someone no doubt came up with to justify their couch-potatoeness, as they were defending allegations that Survivor may not be all that real (imagine that). You won’t find this in any dictionary, but it read: . . . relating to or being a genre of television in which a storyline is created from people interacting or competing with one another in unscripted, unrehearsed situations. Wrong again.

To be accurate, Reality TV is capturing events that would have existed regardless of whether the cameras had been there to record them. Events such as war coverage, space shuttle launches and landings, sports, natural disasters, crimes in progress, and countless other scenarios of daily life. What most of you know as Reality TV is actually comprised of highly controlled, and pre-determined, situations that produce social drama that has been specifically fabricated for the cameras — and the television advertisers.

You may be surprised to know that since June of 2005 there have been 262 shows on the boob tube that have been classified as Reality TV. Yes, 262! Sixty-one percent of them are still active titles, which is astounding — and a sad commentary on the state of affairs as to what stimulates the average American brain.

Here are some of the current, and previous, quality shows that families have stopped their daily routines for, set their Tivo’s to record in their absence, and been mesmerized by: Beauty and the Geek, Brat Camp, Can’t Get a Date, Hair Trauma, Horse Court, The Biggest Loser, White Rapper Show, Wife Swap . . .  need I go on? I personally like the title The Biggest Loser. I’ve never seen it. I’m wondering if it is a show featuring folks who do nothing but sit and watch Reality TV shows every night.

The latest disgrace to hit the airwaves is Armed & Famous. This series follows its five stars (and I use that term loosely — two of them being mental case La Toya Jackson, and has-been Erik Estrada) as they take to the streets as “sworn police officers” in the Midwestern town of Muncie, Indiana. Yeah right. Now there’s a healthy dose of reality. Tourism must have been at an all-time low in Muncie when they inked that deal. This show is as embarrassing to watch as it is to watch music videos from decades gone by, except that it didn’t take Armed & Famous thirty years to become a humiliation.

Anyway, let’s get back to the filming of these shows. I would have to say that COPS was one of the, if not THE, first modern-day Reality TV shows, and is still a fan favorite today. It pretty much satisfies the accurate definition of reality TV. The events that are recorded would have existed regardless of whether cameras had shown up with the cops. However, that’s about where the true reality stops for the most part. It is still very entertaining, and folks still do silly things even though they know the camera is rolling. However, do you actually think that the cops, and most of the suspects for that matter, would have acted exactly in the same manner had the cameras not been present? I, or any cop that you talk to, will answer that with a resounding NO! The cameras, lights, microphones, and COPS personnel completely skew the outcome of that event. But, at least it is still some semblance of human nature captured for our enjoyment, and there are no re-takes involved. There are some other shows as well that operate in the same manner.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of what I call the parade of charade. These are the other shows that portray themselves as Reality TV. The endless succession of scripted, rehearsed, and directed story-lines that are pieced together re-take after re-take, and then edited to provide the most entertaining version possible. Hmmm . . . smells like Hollywood to me. If you think the producers of shows like Survivor, The Bachelor, American Idol, The Osbournes, Big Brother, The Real Life, Flavor of Love, The Apprentice, and the remaining laundry list of shows, would ever think of leaving anything to chance, aka reality, then maybe I could interest you in one of my ice-skating camel farms in Antarctica.

Imagine television networks, producers, and multi-million dollar advertisers, allowing just any average folks off of the streets onto the set, telling them what they wanted them to do, turning on the cameras, unrehearsed no less, then taking the first and only footage that they recorded, and putting it on TV-that my folks would be some serious reality. Unfortunately, it would also be the first, and last, episode that you would see of I Broke My Sister’s Fingernail Tobogganing Across the Serengeti.   

The same goes for the shows that chronicle the daily life of an individual or family. What’s real about having cameramen, soundmen, producers, directors, grips, electricians and other assistants following you around your home, at work, or at the grocery store? Sure, it is entertaining. That is because 75% of what you see is scripted, and of course everyone is trying to give their most captivating performance — continually saying all of the coolest and funniest things possible-again, not reality. I have a wonderful, busy, and humorous life. However, if I was unknowingly being filmed during the course of one half hour at any given time of the day, I seriously doubt if there would be enough entertainment value to get from one television commercial to the next. Trust me when I say that producers would leave nothing to chance when it comes to television airtime.

In my eyes, I am not sure which is more comical, the irony of Reality TV, or the folks who put their lives on hold every day to watch this debacle of the airwaves. I have a lady friend. Her entire life is consumed by Realty TV. She has Tivo for the soul purpose of recording numerous Reality TV shows while she watches another one “live.” Now that right there just cracks me up. She is watching Survivor “live” while she records shows on sixteen other channels. Apparently she, like hundreds of thousands of others in need of a life, don’t realize that the cast didn’t just strap on their loincloths while she was getting her popcorn ready. That episode was filmed, edited, and ready for airtime six months prior to her “live” performance. She said to me the other day, “I try to rotate recording the shows so that I get to watch a different one live each night.” Uhmmm . . . okay. And then there is my favorite statement that she makes. “Don’t tell me what happened!” in reference to the seventy-three episodes of the other shows still in queue in her Tivo. So, even if I did have the Reality TV disorder, that would mean I would only be able to talk to her about one thing each day, providing of course that I called her after she had watched that episode.

And so it goes. As far as I can tell, the only reality of this whole sad situation is that networks, advertisers, showbiz folks, and popcorn manufacturers keep getting richer, while kids go neglected, spouses get lonelier, chores remain undone, and viewers’ asses get wider. Wake up to the true reality America — life!


© Copyright 2007 Larry Cox  All Rights Reserved

Any reproduction of this material, in whole or part, without the express
written permission of Larry Cox is a violation of copyright laws.
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