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The Rise of Reality Television

Published on March 27, 2024, 9:38 p.m. 
by Stephanie Smith.

Over the past few years, it feels like reality TV has become a staple in many lives. Surprisingly, reality TV has been around since 1948, even though it became popular in the 21st century. About 79% of adult TV watchers in the United States watch reality TV shows, but the question remains: why so popular?

Photo via Adobe Stock by terovesalainen

The Old
Even though reality TV is almost as old as the creation of television itself (1927), there are shows that remain incredibly popular even after being on the air for over a decade. Original reality TV series such as “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” “Project Runway,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Survivor” and “Big Brother” are still entertaining audiences to this day.

Despite their longevity, these shows continue to attract viewers. After being on air for 13 years, in 2019, “America’s Got Talent” acquired an average of 41.6 million viewers. Another example is “Survivor,” which is currently airing its 46th season since its debut in 2000. According to Nielsen, “Survivor” maintains its popularity with an average of 6.59 million viewers, marking a 4% increase year-over-year.

Many of these shows have evolved into franchises, creating numerous spin-offs and season renewals. For example, The Real Housewives franchise originated with “The Real Housewives of Orange County” in 2006. Since then, it has expanded into nine other spin-off shows set in cities across the United States.

The New
It seems like hundreds of new reality TV shows have emerged over the past few years, taking over the internet. From “Love Island” and its various international editions to “Dance Moms,” “The Masked Singer,” “Selling Sunset” and, of course, spin-offs from reality TV staples like “The Golden Bachelor,” “The Kardashians,” and “Teen Mom: Family Reunion,” there’s plenty of shows to choose from. Although these are new shows, they can certainly compete with the originals.

According to Zipdo, “Love Island” averaged 3.3 million people per episode in 2018. “Love Island,” created in 2015, has sparked many similar shows such as “Love is Blind,” “Too Hot to Handle,” “Perfect Match” and “The Ultimatum.” Additionally, many of these shows have series in different countries. “Love is Blind” has three international shows, and “Love Island” has aired seasons based in 24 different countries. The romance genre of reality television shows accounts for 39% of all reality TV programs, making it the most common genre.

The Why
Why is reality TV so popular? It provides viewers with an escape from their own lives, allowing them to immerse themselves in the experiences of others while enjoying the added elements of competition and drama. Whether you’re cheering for Daisy or Kelsey, everyone loves to pick a favorite and follow their journey throughout the season.

According to C&IStudios, “Reality TV is no longer limited to a certain type of person. Now producers are diversifying their casts to represent different races, genders, and backgrounds.” Promoting diversity within reality TV shows enables a broader audience to connect with the cast on a deeper level.

Public relations professionals strive to create a social media presence that creates a two-way communication between the cast and viewers. In this digital age, viewers have become storytellers creating success or failure for reality TV stars. Via conversations on social media, fans often mention characters from reality TV shows outside of seeing them on screen.

Photo via Adobe Stock by nicoletaionescu

For instance, many final contestants of “The Bachelor” now engage in creating “Get Ready With Me” videos for their social media followers. It’s presumed that “The Bachelor” encourages these contestants to produce this type of content as a means of gauging fan engagement and potentially selecting the next Bachelorette based on who captures the hearts of viewers.

Moreover, there is always the editing from producers to make a situation and/or person seem worse. Participants may be encouraged to lie, manipulate or deceive others for views, raising ethical concerns about prioritizing viewership over respect for the individuals involved.

Whether you look to see who is getting the rose or who is at the top of the pyramid, reality TV has a hold on society that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. What is your favorite reality TV show?

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