Reality TV Programmes Essay
‘We might think of viewers playing a game in which the objective is to spot the moment when the ‘performance’ breaks down and the ‘real person is exposed…These flickers of authenticity are the prize for watching. (Roscoe, 2004) Discuss the above quote in relation to ‘Reality TV’ programmes, with a specific analysis of whether or not you feel that programmes in the genre can in fact portray ‘reality’. You must reference at least two academic texts. Reality television is the ultimate peak into next-door’s bedroom, the enthralling and exciting real-time screening of all the places that the audience is not.
Reality television embarks the audience on a journey, connecting the viewing public with the contestants and visa versa. The entertainment conglomerates found a way to make televised life a business whilst consequently rewarding themselves with a lifetime of profits. Reality television is a very popular genre that presents real people, monitored and portrayed commercially via the media. Though often deliberately manufactured situations, these fly on the wall documentaries are not only humorous, but at times, exceptionally touching.
Produces provide audiences with cheap and easy television; this consequently gains ratings for the companies and still entertains the audience. Reality television began in the early 1940’s with Allen Funt’s ‘Candid Camera’ broadcasting unsuspecting ordinary people reacting to pranks. It has been called the ‘granddaddy of the reality TV genre’. The premise of the show involved concealed cameras filming ordinary people being confronted with unusual situations, when the victim was revealed to the unusual situations the shows catch phrase ‘Smile, your on candid camera’ was said.
Today many other reality shows for example ‘Punk’d, Trigger Happy TV” use a similar intertextual phrase which can be linked back to the show. Even in early television, real people where featured, the audience would have never seen anything like this, because people were presented with the news and dramas etc, however showing the ‘reality’ gave the audience a new type of television, which was exciting to watch. In 1964 a new hybrid of reality TV shows were broadcasted, ‘Seven Up’ was a reality show which broadcasted interviews with a dozen of ordinary seven year-olds discussing their reactions to everyday life.
The programme was structured as a series of interviews with no element of plot, however it did have the effect of turning ordinary people into celebrities. Shows like these became extremely popular as it allowed access into fame, which most people would take the opportunity to do so, as today we are obsessed with celebrity lifestyle. In relation to the quote it is evident that ‘reality’ can be shown, the children in the show would not realise that they were going to be on television, so they would therefore act themselves. The television show was broadcasted every seven years, showing how the young children’s class and views changed. Seven Up’ is a good example that backs up the statement because it can in face portray ‘reality’. ‘Reality shows pander to the oldest and most disreputable traits in human nature- the desire to gawp at other peoples misfortunes’ (Noughton) Producers realised that reality television shows were cheap and easy to make. With reality television becoming extremely popular, producers new exactly what to make. Crime and rescue based shows were the first that caught people’s attention, with shows for example ‘Emergency 999’ and ‘Police camera action’ that regularly attracted audience over the 10-million mark. (Hill, 1999)
Today it can be argued that reality TV shows do not present real people and real situations however, ‘Crimewatch UK’ is an informative reality television show, with the purpose to help the British police force and to present real life situations. The show began in June 1984 reconstructing major unsolved crimes with a view to gaining information from the members of the public. ‘Crimewatch’ features real people and real events, which presents the audience ‘reality’. This show presents real CCTV footage of crimes that have happened in the UK, the show airs one a month at peak time with a 15minute follow up later in the evening. Crimewatch’ allows the audience insight into police footage, which becomes exciting as the audience feels as though they are involved with the resolution of the crime. The once-a-month show allows the audience to view criminals committing crimes; the ‘raw’ behind the scene material gives insight to the audience of what can happen in a real life situation, it also tries to get the members of the public to speak up because they could of witnessed these situations and they could not of said anything, however ‘Crimewatch’ enables the audience to speak out and help the victims in the show.
Many other crime and rescue based shows give the audience insight into real life situations, ‘reality TV’ is now used as a genre description of any factual programme based on an aesthetic style. Footage from surveillance cameras have been a mainstay of the reality TV programme. The CCTV image appears to have a kind of voyeurism in that its broadcast on television allows the viewer to see things that were never intended to be seen, shows for example ‘Police Camera Action’ show the audience things that weren’t meant to be shown. Police Camera Action’ first began in 1994 with, each episode showing police footage of bad driving and car chases. The CCTV footage gives the audience voyeuristic pleasure watching the police chase the criminals. Many viewers would feel gratified when watching the police do a good deed, many people see the police car drive past, however to actually see what happens on a day in the police force would excite any member of public, the audience feel as though they are involved with the catch.
Other reality TV shows present reality in different ways, ‘Big Brother’ is an example of a reality show, which features real people. The European transnational entertainment group Emdemol first created ‘Big Brother’ in 1999. The show took ordinary people and placed them in the big brother house for the audience to watch. The show uses CCTV techniques that allow the audience to have a voyeuristic gaze over the participants in the house. The CCTV style gives the viewer the impression of events occurring independently of the camera reality.
Throughout the show the audience are presented to conflict, relationships etc. However it needs to be questioned does it present the truth and reality? It shows real people in a house, which has cameras throughout; there are a total of 33 cameras throughout the house and garden, even in the toilets, which makes it impossible for the housemates to escape the ‘eye’. The ‘eye’ in the title sequence symbolizes the CCTV cameras throughout the whole of the house it also has an ideology that Brittan is monitored 24/7.
The show, which is aired on Channel 4 and E4, allows constant viewing thus allowing the audience to gain pleasure by watching the real people. The game show format allows the psychological twist in that the participants were called upon to act as a team. In relation to the quote the audience are always trying to ‘spot the moment when the performance breaks down’, when the participants in the ‘Big Brother’ house are being two-faced immediately the audience will spot this and question whether they are being themselves.
It becomes enjoyable for the audience to watch when they see that there is conflict throughout the house. In an entrapped environment it is evident that the housemates are bound to have arguments, it makes good television, but it sometimes gets to a point where you have to question the housemates actions and think whether not they are being ‘fake’. ‘When we watch reality TV we are slowing down the car to gape at the squashed motorcycle at the side of the road’ (Porter) When the audience watches reality TV they become the passive viewer, they just watch the programme instead of analyzing and becoming the active viewer.
In many cases it is obvious that the audience will have a voyeuristic gaze over the ‘real’ people in the house, the audience want to be like them and the thrive to become famous. ‘Big Brother’ allows us to ‘gape’ at the participants on the show; the audience aspires to be like them. The audiences somehow gain pleasure and sense of social aspiration in seeing ordinary people become famous and achieve celebrity status. The ability to become a celebrity without having a talent or skill is appealing to many viewers. ‘Big Brother’ can sometimes portray reality however it does not always show the truth.
Producers edit down the show to make the participants look good or bad, in this matter it is hard for the audience to make their mind up about certain members. It can be argued that reality television does not portray ‘real’ things, however no matter what type of programme it is, it will never show the reality, as television shows are highly edited. Watching reality TV does allow the audience to escape everyday life and watch other people’s misfortunes, but after watching the real people it shows the audience that anything could happen to them. Big Brother’ in this case allows the audience to watch the real people in an entrapped environment. ‘Big Brother’ needs to be questioned does it show real events and show the participants as themselves? The answer is no, the audience will never know what the participants are really like unless they were their friend, it is hard for the audience to make their mind up about the participant, however the edit allows the audience to see how ‘Big Brother’ portray them, in this case if a housemate started an argument at the very beginning of the show, producers will make that person look bad throughout the whole of the series.
The edit makes good television and producers understand that an audience wants to watch the ‘real person exposed’. In hindsight it is clear that most reality television shows do present ‘reality’ however not always, ‘Big Brother’ takes the audience away from the norm and presents them with and utopian world, however shows for example ‘Crimewatch’ do present reality as it deals with real life situations.
Reality is a hard definition when disusing television, however I feel that many shows present reality and the truth; however there are aspects, which make it, seem fiction. To conclude, reality television is a popular genre, which will continue to excite and entertain the audience, there will never be the ‘reality’ of what an audience member see’s in his / hers life, however good television can portray what can in some what ways be defined as ‘reality’.