Lesson slides for A2 Media Studies (AQA Spec) with an overview of reality TV and some discussion points. Students are advised to use YouTube to investigate some of the programmes referenced in the slide.
Reality TV is a hybrid genre that is continually shifting and developing. It wasinitially understood to present everyday life as entertainment however manycontemporary shows place participants in highly constructed situations. Reality TVnow involves presenting a range of very structured scenarios, heavily edited toprovide audience entertainment.Reality TV draws upon many different genres including:Documentary – using real footage of real people, often performing their jobs (e.g.Airport, Cops, Grimebusters) or going about their everyday lives. Often filmed in aCinéma vérité styleSoap Opera – using a multiple enigma narrative (e.g. Made in Chelsea and TheOnly Way is Essex )Game Show – With a prize for which participants compete (Sometimes combinedwith voting e.g. I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!)Voting – Shows use a public or studio vote (e.g. X-Factor, The Voice)
Reality TV is nothing new and has existed since the early daysof television however in recent years it has become hugelypopular often occupying prime time television spots.The recent rise in popularity of reality TV can be linked to changesin the broadcasting industry. There are now a huge amount ofdifferent channels across different platforms. This has led to adecrease in revenues for commercial TV channels and more of ademand for cheap, popular and easy to produce television.Shows such as X-factor and Big Brother have dominated viewingfigures during prime time broadcasting and have beensuccessfully syndicated to many other countries where they haveexperienced similar popularity.
DOCUMENTARY Cops is one of the longest running TV shows in the US and airs during prime-time. The show follows the US police force out on patrol. It follows a documentary cinéma vérité format with no narration or scripted dialogue and relies on the commentary of the officers.The show was first broadcast in 1989. At thesame time The Writers Guild of America wason strike and this resulted in demand for newmaterial that was unscripted and therefore didnot require the use of a writer. The show hasbeen hugely popular and its influence can beseen in similar shows on UK television such asStreet Wars and Cops with Cameras.
DOCUMENTARY? One of the earliest and most influential reality TV programmes was the US television show “An American Family”. This show followed a middle-class Californian family for seven months in 1970. The show attracted considerable controversy at the time as the family’s eldest son came out as gay during filming and the parents separated (and eventually divorced) during filming of the show.In 2011, The New York Times reflected on some of the controversy the series engendered:“For the viewing public, the controversy surrounding An American Family doubled as a crash coursein media literacy. The Louds, in claiming that the material had been edited to emphasize thenegative, called attention to how nonfiction narratives are fashioned. Some critics argued that thecamera’s presence encouraged the subjects to perform. Some even said it invalidated the project.That line of reasoning, as Mr. Gilbert has pointed out, would invalidate all documentaries. It alsodiscounts the role of performance in everyday life, and the potential function of the camera as acatalyst, not simply an observer”The show would directly inspire a British spin off “The Family” and can be seen as oneof the first examples of the format that is now popular in contemporary reality TV.
“CONSTRUCTEDREALITY” ...real life or soap opera?“Some of these scenes have been set up forentertainment purposes”
“CONSTRUCTEDREALITY” ...real life or soap opera?Shows such as the ones highlighted on the previous slide have become hugelypopular in recent years. They are very cheap and easy to produce and ostensiblyare based on ‘real’ people and ‘real’ lives. The shows tend to blur fact withfiction and many situations may be set up or edited for dramatic effect.Shows such as Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex, play heavily onregional stereotypes and often show idealistic lifestyles (e.g owning a bar, drivingexpensive cars, modelling, holidays in grand Italian villas etc.)• Why do you think these shows are so popular?• Does it matter if scenes are set up for entertainment purposes?• Is ‘Constructed Reality’ an oxymoron?Intertextuality also plays a large part in the popularity of these shows withparticipants appearing in magazines, advertising, websites and other televisionshows. Consider the following slide...
IntertextualityClearly The Only Way is not just Essex, It’s magazine appearances, adverts and spinoff shows!
TASKRead the reality TV section in your textbook (pg 4-7). Pay particularattention to the “Media in Action” section on pg 6 and complete theInvestigating Media task. You need to conduct some research andproduce an A4 document that includes notes and images to showexamples of how your chosen programme is connected to othermedia.