Reality TV: The Entertainment Revolution

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Reality TV has taken over our lives, in fact, when Apple, Inc. announces that it is creating its own reality TV programming, you know that this is not the best time to become a dedicated scripted screenwriter (Vincent). What could the premise possibly be? It will be an unscripted show about app developers, of course! The company has issued a casting call for the most ingenious app creators in the world to send in their information for possible selection. The specific format has yet to be disclosed, but it could be a Shark Tank-like program where app developers pitch multimillionaire venture capitalists, or it might be Bachelor-like show where the app creator attempts to woo a prospective mentor to give him or her a leg up, some major connections, and advertising. The name of the show is quite clever, it will be called Planet of the Apps. Whatever the format, it will become a launch pad for the developer and their team and provide them with prime real estate within the Apple App Store (Vincent).

When the prolific writer and TV producer, David E. Kelley, creator of Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, LA Law and The Practice, was asked his opinion on reality TV, he said: “I remain as disgusted as ever at the exploitative garbage currently polluting our medium and will try not to pollute it further (“David E. Kelley (I)”). Although he can live off of his success for the rest of his life, without ever having to pen another script, he cannot be happy about the reality TV, unscripted trend that has taken over TVland. Athough Kelley was considered one of the preeminent producers of drama, his success has dipped significantly (Goldberg). In addition, despite his disgust with the genre, he has even attempted to produce a reality program, unsuccessfully (Rice). The Bravo Network is the perfect example of how important reality TV actually is. It is a cable and satellite television network, owned by NBCUniversal, that is almost exclusively dedicated to reality TV programming (“Upcoming Shows”). The only scripted shows among over 110 new, current and cancelled show lineups, are Odd Mom Out and Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce (Villarreal). This is stunning when considering the fact that reality TV arguably started less than 20 years ago.

Playoff and Competition Reality Shows

Among some of the first and largest reality programs were Survivor, Big Brother and the Amazing Race (Goldenberg). Each of the three franchises are still in existence and running strong today. These shows reside in the playoff or competition genre of reality TV. Survivor, a show on CBS, is based on the premise that a certain number of castaways are set to live together in a remote location, initially in two or three tribes, and the cast members must build protection from the weather, create a place to cook food, find or win food, win competitions that provide benefits, and get to know the other contestants, while developing alliances and playing a skilled social game (Glazer). One by one, the castaways are eliminated from the island or other locale and at one point the two or three groups get to the point of the merge (D’Addario). The merge, where all groups become one, is the point that all people want to arrive at, because rather than competing as teams, the cast members are competing as individuals. The merge usually aligns with the halfway point in the game, and most people crave getting to this point because a person’s luck, or alliances can change dramatically. If the player was not having a good experience prior to the merge, it can change their destinies significantly (D’Addario). 

The game raises emotional issues of trust, betrayal, truth and lies, power and powerlessness, and distinguishes the worker bees and the those who are lazy and leave all the work to others (D’Addario). Survivor always has a competition called a challenge. The challenge can be a group challenge or an individual challenge. At the end of the challenge, the winning team or individual is given a reward, immunity or a combination of both components. The rewards given have included trips away from camp to share a feast; more food stuffs for the group’s supplies, like rice or spices; tools like a fishing rod, a spear or flint; or convenience items, like pillows or a tarp. At the end of the show the castaways meet at tribal council. There, the host, Jeff Probst, asks questions that elicit the struggles that the castaways are having, often opening up wounds that were not expected. At the end of the question and answer period, the castaways vote for the person to be eliminated. It is at this point that the alliances and truths and lies that have been shared play out resulting in the elimination of one of the contestants. In the early stages of the game, the contestant is simply eliminated from the game, toward the end of the competition, the eliminated castaway becomes part of the jury and will ultimately be part of the decision regarding who wins the game. The winner is usually the person who damaged his or her relationship least with those remaining on the jury, or who played an incredible game that everyone admires. In the end, one winner is selected who is awarded $1 million (D’Addario). All players win a paid award amount based on the length of time they were on camera. The second place player usually wins $100,000 and the third place player wins $85,000 although the only amount that is discussed on camera is the $1 million prize. The games has been played around the world, in particular, Borneo, the Australian Outback, Africa, Marquesas, Thailand, the Amazon, Pearl Islands, Vanuatu, Palau, Guatemala, Panama, Cook Islands, China, Micronesia, Gabon, Tocantins, Samoa, Nicaragua, Philippines, Cambodia and Fiji.

Big Brother, a long running reality TV program that also runs on CBS, is based on the premise that a certain number of house mates are placed in a house, and cameras and microphones document their interactions twenty-four hours a day (Goldenberg). Similar to Survivor, the game is based on relationships, alliances, betrayal, lies and the truth. The house guests are required to remain in the Big Brother House, which has an inside, or residential component and an outside component (Braxton). The Big Brother set is built on the CBS lot in Studio City, California. People in the Studio City neighborhood occasionally get to see or hear a small aspect of the show, but this momentary exposure only happens occasionally, and is serendipitous, at best. The show relies on isolation which has an impact on the guests, they are not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio, use cell phones, utilize the Internet, read books, newspapers or use pen and paper (Braxton). 

The house guest must remain in a basic home environment, with community bedrooms, a head of household bedroom and lounge, a living room, an area where food is stored, and a smaller living room that can usually only contain a few guests at a time (Braxton). About once a week the group comes together to vote on a person to be evicted from the Big Brother House. The choices for possible eviction are usually, at least in part, selected by the Head of Household. Each week a new person is voted head of household after a group competition, usually held in the exterior area of the residence. Another element of Big Brother is the Power of Veto (PoV), the person who wins the PoV has the ability to save a nominee from eviction. If the PoV owner saves a nominee, the Head of Household must select another person to become the new nominee for eviction. At times there have been slight twists associated with the PoV and what power it gave its owner. There is also a Diary Room, which acts as a confessional, where viewers often get to hear the contestant express their truth, and also reveal their selection for eviction. Periodically, a voice will inject a booming comment, usually related to something one of the house guests is doing wrong, like talking about production matters. Big Brother often has twists added to the basic show. For example, sometimes there are twin or triplet housemates placed in the house to create confusion. Another twist is called the secret mission. In this twist, one of the contestants has a specific job to accomplish, if successful, could win a prize for a group or could be a personal prize (Braxton).

Soap Opera Reality Shows

Beyond the competition format of the reality genre is the soap opera reality format. Shows like the Real Housewives franchise, the Keeping Up with the Kardashian franchise and The Hills exemplify this entertainment format. This reality format generally explores the lives of a family or a set of friends (Day). The most successful of the Real Housewives franchises are The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, The Real Housewives of Orange County, and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Kay L). NeNe Leakes, one of the original stars of the Atlanta version, has extended her celebrity to include acting on Broadway shows, a recurring role on Glee, Celebrity Apprentice 4, The New Normal, and appearances on a number of game shows, talk shows and a film (Wenn). She started a clothing line offered for sale on the Home Shopping Network, which sold out within just a few days ("NeNe by NeNe Leakes"). She is known for her difficult relationships with almost each friend she had, including her husband. A one point or another she was in a hate fest with her bestie Cynthia Bailey; her husband Greg Leakes, who she divorced and then remarried; Kim Zolciak, Porsha Williams, Kenya Moore, and Marlo Hampton. In fact, NeNe was temporarily fired from Atlanta for getting into a fight with Andy Cohen, Bravo’s host and executive producer of the Housewives franchises (Leonard). 

In a recent high drama storyline, Phaedra Parks, an Atlanta attorney, estranged husband Apollo Nida, was indicted, tried and sentenced to 8 years in prison for fraud and theft (Duke). It is likely that this is the end of their relationship, but Parks has been reluctant to file because of the effect it might have on her boys. Apparently Nida is not adjusting well to prison, he expects special treatment and thinks that he is a star and should be treated like one. Another Real Housewives husband has joined him in the same prison. Joe Giudice, husband to recent inmate Teresa Giudice, has become fast friends with his fellow inmate. Teresa and Joe were indicted in 39-count indictment by the feds for engaging in fraudulent bank activities, wire fraud, writing bad checks, lying on their mortgage applications, lying on their taxes and bankruptcy fraud. Teresa was allowed to serve her 15 month sentence first, so that Joe could take care of their four girls. While Joe, sentenced to 41 months in prison, has just recently entered the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix. It is possible that Joe might be deported back to Italy, once he gets out of prison. The New Jersey franchise has been on hiatus since Teresa plays a prominent role in the success of the program (Duke).

Aside from the prison sentences that the Real Housewives celebrities share, they also share an extensive number of divorces since the beginning of their respective shows (Bricker and Nilles). Phaedra Parks may decide to move forward with her divorce from Apollo incarcerated for 8 years, Cynthia Bailey recently announced her separation from Peter Thomas, others include Sheree Whitfield, DeShawn Snow and Lisa Wu. On the New York show, Ramona and Mario Singer, had a contentious cheating scandal and divorce, Michael Wainstein, husband to Jules Wainstein filed for divorce recently, and Bethenny Frankel is coming to the end of what may be the longest divorce in the history of divorces, Countess LuAnn de Lesseps divorced the Count during the show. Dina Manzo, from the New Jersey show, and her husband divorced. On the Orange County program, Tamra Barney divorced her former husband Simon and married Eddie Judge; Vicki Gunvalson divorced Donn, after 16 years of marriage; Lynne Curtin, in shock about the couples failing business and dwindling fortunes, divorced her husband Frank; Jeana Keough divorced her husband Matt, pretty early on in the series. The Beverly Hills franchise has watched the demise of Camille Grammer, possibly one of the most embarrassing divorces in the history of public divorces; Adrienne Maloof, who always quibbled with her husband Paul Nassif, also got a divorce; Taylor Armstrong, and the surprise of all surprises, Yolanda Hadid’s marriage to music mogul David Foster ended in divorce (Bricker and Nilles).

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