Reality Television is a genre of television shows that took off in the 1980s, known for featuring "real" stories with "real" people. Reality TV shows generally cast participants who have little to no acting experience. These participants oftentimes narrate the situations presented on camera, and their characters on the show are meant to reflect how their personalities are in real life. The situations are also known to be spontaneous due to how the participants react towards one another and are known not to have prepared scripts.
Hidden Camera Shows
Reality TV started off with hidden camera shows such as "Candid Camera", which premiered in 1948 on the ABC network. The coordinators of the show would plant funny props, such as whoopee cushions, around unassuming people while a hidden camera was recording the people's reactions. Once they were ready to uncover the practical joke, the coordinators would exclaim the show's slogan, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera." "Punk'd" (2007), which aired on MTV, had the same concept as Candid Camera, but the jokes are played only on celebrities. The catchphrase that producer, host, and actor Ashton Kutcher uses is, "You've been punk'd." "Scare Tactics" (2003), which premiered on the Syfy channel, features victims that are lured into horrifying situations by someone that they know personally. The person inviting them to the location is informed about the prank beforehand. The coordinators of the show then scare the victim by staging a violent crime or introducing a gruesome monster while their reactions are being recorded. When the victim seems utterly fearful of the situation, the coordinators or accomplice would ask the victim if he/she is scared. If they say, "Yes," the pranksters exclaim, "You're on Scare Tactics."
Television game shows give contestants the opportunity to compete and earn money. "The Price is Right" (1956) debuted on NBC, and it featured contestants who would bid on merchandise prizes. The closest they bid to the actual retail value of the item, the more money they earn. They also have the opportunity to win luxury prizes such as vacations or vehicles. "Jeopardy!" (1964) also premiered on NBC but presents a different game show theme. Three contestants are shown a board of different categories and each category has a set of 5 questions that are masked behind dollar values. The higher the values are, the more difficult the question is to answer. The first person to buzz in and answer correctly earns that dollar amount. However, if the first person to buzz answers incorrectly, they lose that dollar amount. A newer game show is "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (1999) premiered on ABC in which contestants answer multiple-choice questions. The more questions they answer, the more money they earn. If the contestant makes it to the end of the round and can answer the last and most difficult question, they will earn $1 million.
Another genre of reality shows include dating shows, which coordinate matches for people who are looking for partners. One of the first dating shows ever premiered is "The Dating Game" (1965) aired by ABC, in which a bachelor or bachelorette would ask three prospective dating partners questions. While they are answering the questions, the bachelor or bachelorette asking the questions cannot see the three contestants. At the end of the program, the bachelor/bachelorette will pick one of the partners to date and the show would reveal the individual chosen. "The Newlywed Game" (1966) aired by ABC is another type of dating game in which married couples are completing against each other on how well they know their partners. They are asked questions about their partners and the couple that answers the most questions correctly wins. "The Bachelor" (2002) is a newer dating game show, which debuted on ABC, in which one bachelor is presented with a pool of potential spouses, usually about 20 or more. The bachelor has dates with contestants each week and gives roses to individuals that he is still interested in seeing. The contestants who are not given roses at the end of the rose ceremony are eliminated. During the last episode of the show, the Bachelor chooses to wed one of the two remaining women.
Possibly the most popular genre of reality television are talent competitions. People participate in contests where there is usually a panel of judges assessing their skills and only one individual, or act, wins in the end. "America's Got Talent" (2006) features all talents such as singing, dancing, magic, comedy, and much more.
Other shows focus on a specific kind of talent, such as singing. American Idol (2002) and the "X-Factor" (2011) take the lead as being the most popular singing competitions. "So You Think You Can Dance" (2005) and "Dancing with the Stars" (2005) are among the most-watched dancing competitions. The latter features celebrities who are graded on their ability to learn and perfect classic dances such as the rumba and cha-cha in a short period of time. Cooking competitions dominate the Food Network channel with shows such as "Iron Chef America" (2005), in which an Iron Chef (chefs who are Food Network personalities) is pitted against a challenger who is not as well known. A secret ingredient is revealed at the start of the show and the two chefs must create the tastiest and most creative dishes using that ingredient. Endurance shows such as "Survivor" (2000) and "The Amazing Race" (2001) also dominate the airwaves. Survivor features a group of about 15 strangers are left on a remote island and each week, the contestants cast a vote of who should be voted off based on their alliances or tensions among one another. The Amazing Race features teams of two who race around the world while facing culturally based challenges testing their physical and mental abilities.
Some viewers who watch reality TV enjoy witnessing how drama occurring between participants escalates and unfolds. Other viewers who watch game shows or talent competitions enjoy suspense and newly found talent. Some reality shows are rumored to not be as "real" as they should be, with accusations of shows being scripted or footage being reshot. However, the only thing that is for sure is that reality TV still dominates American television.
InterExchange Career Training USA is a top J-1 Visa sponsor for university students and young professionals who have already secured internships or training programs with companies in the U.S. If you still need to find an internship or training program in the U.S., check out our resources and start the J-1 Visa sponsorship process early.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.