Reality TV

Feb 182004
Authors: Gabriel Dance

The camera pans over San Diego. A voiceover enters. “Seven

strangers picked to live in a house….” Cut to Joe Millionaire

giving a precious ruby to three lucky women. Next go to Nick Lachey

telling his wife Jessica Simpson that she doesn’t need her Louis

Vuitton purse on a camping trip. Fade into the theme song courtesy

of a recent Lachey release, “This I Swear.” Now watch survivor

Richard Hatch rubbing sticks together to make fire. Cut to Paris

Hilton and Nicole Ritchie dressed in Prada at the local watering

hole. Make sure to get the shot where Ritchie pours bleach on pool

table in drunken fiasco.

That’s the money shot.

Now a montage of scenes featuring the heavily-sedated Ozzy

Osbourne yelling “Sharon” at the top of his lungs.

Then build to dramatic climax with clips of Bob the Bachelor

with three women but only two roses, Simon Cowell dragging

someone’s self-esteem through the muck and Coral telling Trishelle,

“I don’t wrestle, I beat b**ches up!”

For the finale we are in a boardroom and sitting at the position

of power is none other than Donald Trump, billionaire real estate

developer. He looks us right between the eyes, points at us with

his hand and says, “You’re fired.”

Now that’s reality television.

Reality goes Boom

Reality television, as most know it today, was introduced with

“The Real World” in the early 1990s. Since then the number of

shows, storylines, premises and television ratings have grown


“They started as a novel idea, now they’re non-stop. People like

to project themselves into the fantasy of it,” said Mike Pearson,

Features and Entertainment Editor for the Rocky Mountain News.

“Now, you’re getting more emphasis on the lower end of the cultural

spectrum and shows like ‘Masterpiece Theater’ are having trouble

finding a sponsor.”

We still have the legendary “The Real World,” but now almost

every other excuse for a reality show can also be found on air.

Some of that have recently joined the ranks of “American Idol” and

“Survivor” include “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancee,” “The Simple

Life” and “The Apprentice” starring, of all people, Donald


The actual “realness” of these shows could certainly be debated,

but what cannot be debated is their popularity.

The latest Nielsen Ratings are a testament to the popularity of

reality TV.

“American Idol,” which was called a “ratings juggernaut” in a

USA Today article, is thriving in its third season. For the week of

Feb. 2 the show holds the top spot for number of viewers with 30.1

million tuning in for its Tuesday show.

The “talent” show also holds the third and eighth spot for its

Wednesday and Monday broadcasts respectively.

While it now may be considered “unhip” among the social elite to

watch reality television, it is clear that even cool people are

still watching – they’re just not telling anyone.

Can I get a definition for reality?

Another controversial aspect of reality television is inherent

to its name. Whose reality is this?

“Their popularity almost frightens me. The more people see, the

more they think its real,” Pearson said. “It’s not realistic to

drop eight people onto an island and have them fight over a


The idea of seven strangers picked to live in a extravagant

house, get awesome jobs and gain pseudo-celebrity status would seem

most unreal to many. And few people would view going to a barren

island where you are forced to perform physical stunts in order to

get a Coke as reality either. And most would agree that anyone who

thinks “The Real World” is anything like an unscripted documentary

would be mistaken.

An article featured in Time Magazine during the early years of

“The Real World,” talked about just how real the program is.

“We storyboard each scene, just like in a prime-time series,”

Mary-Ellis Bunim said.

Bunim, who recently died of breast cancer, was co-creator of

“The Real World,” “Road Rules,” “Making the Band” and the recent

hit “The Simple Life.”

For many though, the unrealistic nature of reality television is

not even considered.

“Reality television? It’s totally unreal,” said Laura

Kwiatkowski, a CSU alumnae and high school teacher. “How many times

are you going to stay in a mansion with 30 good-looking men and go

on dream dates? Never.”

In actual reality, I’m not a celebrity

It would seem then that one of the main requirements needed to

satisfy the “reality” in reality TV programming is that the

participants not be famous, but rather that they be “real”


And herein lies one of the more interesting by-products of

reality programming- reality celebrities – or people who have

become famous purely by appearing on a reality show.

The list of reality celebrities grows with each new season.

Puck, after appearing on “The Real World: San Francisco,” was

able to secure gigs on shows such as MTV’s “Cribs,” “Law and

Order,” “Road Rules All Stars” and “Real World Road Rules


Evan Marriott, better known as the original Joe Millionaire, has

had even more success. Since his reality stint he has been in KFC

ads, had his voice used in an episode of “The Simpsons” and had

guest roles in several other shows according to

Mariott has also secured a role in “Motocross Kids,” a movie to be

released later this month and will host “Fake-a-Date,” a show set

to premier next month on the Game Show Network.

And most recently, Trishelle from “Real World: Las Vegas,” has

been seen on MTV’s “Punk’d” as well as being cast on another show,

“The Surreal World.” The funny thing is that the rest of the

celebrities cast on “The Surreal World” are actual B-list celebs

including Vanilla Ice, Ron Jeremy and Dennis Rodman.

And not only are reality TV participants gaining celebrity, but

they are also realizing they can market themselves.

Rocco Dispirito, whose restaurant was featured in the reality

show “The Restaurant,” was able to gain celebrity for himself and

publicity for his restaurant through the reality series.

On recent broadcasts of “The Inferno,” Mike can be seen wearing

shirts promoting his alter ego, wrestler The Miz. Also, Coral wears

shirts that are pop culture references to things that happened in

previous episodes.

The thing is, many of us can remember what she is referring to

specifically. If this starts getting too real for anybody, feel

free to take a minute.

There is no doubt that reality television will thrive as long as

the ratings continue to soar. It is also likely that, as more shows

are introduced, the actual prospect of any “reality” will diminish.

And everybody knows that pop-culture American society will continue

to make celebrities out of anybody they find interesting or

outrageous, two qualities reality participants generally seem to

have. So good business, and following Donald Trump’s lead is

generally considered good business, tells us to buy into the

reality television craze, because it’s not going away anytime


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