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July 31, 2014

True confessions: I watch reality TV

by Allison Waldman, posted Apr 22nd 2008 11:04AM
Real Housewives of New YorkOkay, I admit it. I like reality TV. Or maybe I should say unscripted TV. These days the parsing of the term "reality" has become as much a discussion as the genre itself. And don't kill me for calling it a genre. It is. It's here to stay. As long as producers can come up with ideas that make money and networks give them air time, reality/non-fiction/unscripted television is going to continue to proliferate the tube.

It's not with any great pride that I admit I'm hooked on reality shows -- some reality shows. My favorites include the high quality, classy shows, like The Amazing Race and Top Chef and Project Runway, as well as trashy ones, i.e. The Real Housewives of Orange County (and New York), Hell's Kitchen and Bridezillas. I like some of the competition-oriented shows, but that doesn't stop me from gazing in astonishment at the train wreck docu-series like Hey Paula and Being Bobby Brown. In fact, when I hear Kathy Griffin riffing on those shows -- her imitation of Whitney screaming "Bobby!" is classic -- I want to cry out, "Yes, yes, I watch that one, too."


Watching many of these shows definitely falls into the guilty pleasure category. They're definitely not art or anything resembling timeless TV. Even something award-winning like The Amazing Race is not on the same plane as a scripted drama, comedy or actual documentary series. That's not a diss on TAR; it's more a realization that these types of shows, Survivor and The Amazing Race, etc., shoot reams and reams of footage which is then assembled into an exciting, interesting, entertaining program. A true documentary is edited; but not manipulated. At least not the ones that are true to their journalistic roots. (That means I'm not talking about Geraldo Rivera!)

But The Amazing Race and Survivor and Bridezilla and Project Runway et. al are entertainment. That's the point. Even a show like The Deadliest Catch, which has been catching great press for the ferocity of the action they present, is not immune to creative editing. Does is matter to me that they've edited the footage to create a more exciting show? No. But don't think for a minute that the reality in unscripted entertainment like The Deadliest Catch, Project Runway, The Celebrity Apprentice, The Next Food Network Star, et. al are really real. They're real in that they are real people in actual situations. But any segment of The Deadliest Catch cannot be confused with the reality of a 60 Minutes story. There's no journalistic truth to reality TV. It's just entertainment.

As entertainment, producers don't just set up cameras and show any hour of Millionaire Matchmaker or Platinum Weddings or The Real World (any city). They cut to present the most interesting and dramatic and funny (if appropriate) sections. But there are moments when I can't help but check my conscience and ask, "Is it a good thing to watch Intervention? Should I be fascinated by the collapse of another human being because of drugs or alcohol or something just as debilitating?" What about shows like The Bachelor or My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé (which I must admit I watched in reruns on Fox Reality TV a few weekends ago)? How about Workout and Supernanny? Do I need help?

No. I'll own it. I like some reality/unscripted/non-fiction TV. To me, this kind of television is like sideshow carnival fare or the circus. Some people adore the circus and worship the tinsel and sawdust. I don't. I've never gotten over the stink of the elephants. But I do like reality TV -- some reality TV.

Television is a big tent. There's a lot of entertainment under the tent, and news and substance. I'll accept the jeers and continuing tuning in to the shows that pique my curiosity. Call me lowbrow, if you will, but I'm just one of many of millions who keep these shows afloat.

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Susan Burns

I love Jon and Kate plus 8 on TLC. I am amazed and thankful for just having two kids every time I watch.

April 22 2008 at 2:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1iPete

In prehistoric times I watched the Real World, but it became apparent to me that a show that had 8 people filmed for a whole week then edited them down to 20 minutes and still couldn't make them interesting really wasn't a good show to watch. This basically has poisoned the whole genre for me and I have avoided these shows ever since.

I do, however, continue to watch the best reality/unscripted TV in great abundance... Sports!

April 22 2008 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Buns and Chou Chou

we like the trashy ones like housewives. we "did" them for Salon.com http://tinyurl.com/4fdlrg

April 22 2008 at 12:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ALG

OMG, yes, I forgot about The Biggest Loser. Another show I love!
--ALG

April 22 2008 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kevjohn

I remember watching Real World early on, either the first or second season, when I became aware of all of what you're saying. Two of the 'characters' on the show had been pissed off at each other for awhile for some reason I can't recall. Then they go off to the laundromat to wash clothes together. There were about three lines of dialogue spoken between them and the next thing you know all is well and they're best buds. I wondered what the hell was said during the 3 or 4 block walk to the laundry, and all the time that they were there washing, that wasn't shown that led to them patching up the relationship like that. I realized then that the massive, selective editing was greatly distorting whatever "reality" there was to be had on a show of this nature.

Nowadays I'm hooked on Hell's Kitchen, and will occassionally tune into Flavor of Love for five or ten minutes a month so I can get my fill of scantily clad skanks chasing after 50-year old Flava. The rest of the shows I have no use for.

April 22 2008 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Emily

I'm not a closet reality show watcher anymore. I'm out and proud, damnit! I get tired of the snobs that think unscripted television is beneath them, but know every detail about a night-time soap. Puh-lease

I watch The Biggest Loser, Beauty and the Geek, America's Next Top Model, American Idol, Survivor, The Amazing Race, What Not To Wear and Project Runway. I'm sure there are more, I just don't recall them all.

April 22 2008 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ALG

I'm tired of being a closet Survivor watcher! Me, too! I watch The Amazing Race, Top Chef, and Hell's Kitchen! I've even (oh dear!) blogged about Oprah's Big Give...http://alittlegem.blogspot.com
Cheers,
ALG

April 22 2008 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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