Are Reality Television Shows Real?

Well, that depends. When reality shows began, the “sell” to the public was,“Yes, it is real.” Let’s take MTV’s “The Real World” as an example. The first series aired on the MTV network in 1992. The show started with these words


“ This is the true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite… and start getting real.”

This was an affective and popular show, as it is going into its twenty-third season, which a remarkable.  The show revolves around seven young adults ages 18-25 and put them is a house and film their interactions with one another. It seems real, or at least the first season was. As the show gained popularity, the “cast” became more outrageous, and the people selected were chosen so they would create some “drama.” And it worked.

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Reality TV producers will tell you that these shows are “unscripted” meaning they don’t work with memorized dialogue. However, over the years, other shows such as  “The Hills” started getting called out by the public.  People claimed to witness “multiple scene shots and retakes” in public places such as the airport. Now, reality producers and past cast members have admitted that there are “planned stories” or intentional situations meant to offer some drama.


Past reality stars have come forward from all types of “reality” TV shows, claiming they were coached to say certain things, and some felt they were exploited for the entertainment of others.

Because reality shows have to follow the basic rules of telling a good story, there has to be a beginning, middle and a conclusion. This is much more difficult to do when your cast is not following a script. This is where exceptional editors come in and put the story together. They pull in different conversations or footage, and fill the story with cast interviews in order to round out any gaps in the story. This is misleading to the audience, not that I think the audience cares all that much.

In order to get as much content as possible, cameras are rolling 24/7 to catch any detail and search for common themes. When the writers spot a recurring theme, the editors go to work and take clips and string them together. Sometimes, the clips are from different days. Sometimes a clip could be a facial expression that had nothing to do with the story,


but is added to make it seem like the cast member responded in an interesting or negative way. On the average, it requires three days of filming to get enough material to put a one-hour show together.

So, there you have it. I personally feel that the truth about reality TV is in the middle. Yes, there may not be a script, but these are real people put into actual situations. And sometimes their behavior is just that…the way they really are.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it!

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My Personal List of the “Stand Out” Reality TV Shows

There are hundreds of reality shows on TV. Some are better than others, but all of them cater to a certain audience that cannot get enough voyeurism …looking through the TV at a microcosm of a “real” person’s life. The true masterminds behind a successful reality TV show make every person interesting. Maybe that’s because we are all so different and unique. I have a few personal favorites and I’m going to break the down into subgenres, if you will.


  The Drama Series

  • The Real World- this is probably my overall hands down favorite Reality TV show. I really appreciated the show during the first three to four seasons, as they tackled some fairly serious topics that everyone faces or knows someone who has been through these experiences. Some of the conflicts revolved around racism, homosexuality, religion, terminal illness, abortion and right to life, drinking and driving, substance abuse and romantic relationships. For me, the biggest cast member that

    I remember fondly was from the second season, Pedro Zamora. He let the world into what his life was like as a gay man infected with AIDS. He educated his roommates and the audience with his poignant and passionate struggles with his health and the stigma attached to the disease. He touched many hearts, long after he passed away.

  • OC- The Real Orange County- this drama revolved around a group of friends and acquaintances as the struggled through school, their romantic relationships, heartbreaks and friendships. This series ran for several seasons, and then branched out into other shows, including The Hills. The Hills followed four women from the OC after high school, going through college, getting their first professional jobs, and of course their relationships with each other.


The Survival Series

  • Survivor- I’m going with as my favorite pick in this category. Survivor dominated the evening time slot for eight years (2003-2011). The show placed people in deserted places with each other and they had to compete for food, water, supplies and physical challenges. During elimination nights, the other cast members would vote privately to remove someone from the game. This game was about strategy. Sometimes the best skilled person was viewed as a threat and voted off. Other times, lazy people were voted off. It was, and still is one of the best.

    Naked and Afraid-this is new to the scene but popular. It puts two people of the opposite sex in a remote area and they must survive together for 21 days. Oh, and they are completely naked. The sensitive body parts are blocked out, but these people struggle. I’ve learned basic survival from watching what works and doesn’t work for the contestants. It’s fascinating.

Shows About Industry

  • American Chopper- this was a long running series that was popular with men and women alike. It followed a small family known for crafting specialty, one of a kind themed motorcycles. The Patriarch, Paul was a tough guy who drove his staff hard, including his sons. What I loved about this show was the realness of this family and their dysfunctional relationships. And it was a treat to watch them grow from a small garage, to a beautiful, state of the art facility. It was a pleasure to watch such success through hard work and commitment.
  • Dirty Jobs- Mike Rowe is the man! This show follows a guy as he works alongside people with some of the most unpleasant jobs around. His on screen charisma and sense of humor made this show successful.


There are so many shows I should mention, but not today. Subgenres such as Soaps (Housewives Series, Kardashians), Talent (American Idol, Dancing With the Stars), and Romance (Bachelor/Bachelorette) and hundreds of others. There is truly a reality show for just about anyone’s interest and tastes.  I’m going to have a beer now and watch “Cupcake Wars”…don’t judge! We all have a guilty pleasure. This one’s mine.

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How Does a Television Show Make It On The Air?

The first thing has to happen: someone has to have a great idea or concept. It may be a screenwriter that pitches a show idea to the right people. Sometimes, a person such a comedian may be approached because of their popularity and charisma. But what happens to the concept?  If it is a popular and unique idea, a network will allow a pilot to be made.


A pilot is a one-time deal. They use ratings to determine whether the show will be a future success. If a network decides to give the show a shot, this is where the Showrunner and Producer come in to the picture. What do they do?

The People Behind TV Series

  • Show runner-this is the person “in charge.” They coordinate the writers, scripts and manage the project. They make decisions about casting actors,deal with talent agencies or handle taped or live auditions. Many times, the showrunner is the scriptwriter.

    Producer-this is the assistant to the showrunner, and has a pretty big job to do. Producers help hire a director, crew, writing assistants. They hire set directors and cast extras.


  • Director of Photography-responsible for all the cameras, including shots, angles and managing others behind a number of cameras.
  • Editor-takes all the footage from the cameras and organizes and edits the work through video and audio.

    Foley Mixer-deals with all the sound effects

  • Gaffer-head of all technical lighting

There are many other important jobs people perform in order to make a TV series. There are extras, stylists, many assistants, runners, and caterers just to mention a few.

What Are the Other Steps Involved?

  • Location-once the cast is selected, the material is written, and every job is filled, it’s vital to find the right location for the project. The location must meet several requirements: it has to be within a budget and it needs to perfectly match the theme of the show. Securing a studio or stage offers many benefits. The weather sound and audio may be controlled. The con to this is studios aren’t always available and they are very expensive. The other option is to shoot on location. Popular places include New York, Washington D.C. and the Los Angeles area. They are known to be movie and TV industry friendly.


  • Reviews-once the pilot is completed, the network will air it. Reviews are an important piece to determine whether a show is picked up or not. Most networks will go by Neilson Ratings.

    If a TV show is picked up, a network may offer a series, which are 13 shows. If they feel confident the show will succeed, they may want a full series, which are 22 episodes. Then everyone gets to work, and hopefully produce a work of art.

So, have you finished your beer yet? I’m telling you, the world of TV production is fascinating to me. I often wondered what would have happened if I moved to Hollywood and tried my hand at my passion. But, when I look at my family, I’ve decided this passion is my hobby, and one I will always love.

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