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Reality Series - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It goes without saying that the nature and documentary series found on National Geographic, David Attenborough’s nature programs, Animal Planet and Discovery Channel, as well as the History Channel, are all excellent. They all depict “real reality”.

Mann ser på tv

Reality Series – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Reality Series – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Jamie Oliver blends passionate activism for nutrition with reality TV.
Jamie Oliver blends passionate activism for nutrition with reality TV.

The Amazing Race that takes teams around the world under different forms of transportation, extreme conditions and stress, and quiz shows such as Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? give us both knowledge of the world and encourage us to explore. Some programs teach us practical things, like The Colony produced by The Discovery Channel where cast members must apply skills and technology to survive in an environment depicting the aftermath of a global catastrophe. And who can avoid being charmed by the Jamie Oliver cooking series? Even series such as X-Factor, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance require training and certain performance skills. But no one with a TV guide or remote control can avoid such series as The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Paradise Hotel, Jersey Shore, Top Model or Survivor. Teens looking for role models and excitement are those who are going to watch these series. Both the negative and positive impact will depend on the essence of the show.

Reality Show Formats

Paris Hilton, hotel heiress and star of the reality television show "The Simple Life," holds her pet chihuahua Tinkerbell
Paris Hilton, hotel heiress and star of the reality television show "The Simple Life," holds her pet chihuahua Tinkerbell

Formats vary from series to series, but the basic structure is the same. The main idea is based on some form of competition between the good guys and the bad guys where body beautiful and physically fit boys/men and girls/women, anywhere from 15 – 30 years of age, are put into high stress “real” situations for huge money prizes. To start with, producers choose non-celebrities or volunteers from auditions. This is commercially beneficial because non-celebrities are cheaper than well-known stars demanding star salaries. Some stars have even refused to appear in certain reality series because of fear for their reputations. Although the reality of the situation is supposedly unrehearsed and unscripted, the producers of these series are all-time tricksters. Segments are structured to extract the maximum emotional impact from a situation. Some even go so far as to cut, alter and edit dialogue or actions to make one character “play” the role they want him or her to play. Their reactions and how they face given situations are essential. And what bring most emotional feedback to a sequence are situations which include sensational feuds, aggression, promiscuous sexual behavior, excessive drinking and partying, power struggles, outlandish dares, survival of the fittest tactics, humiliation, intrigues, hate and revenge.

What Critics Say

Some critics claim that reality shows distort our views on reality. In many series, privacy is totally non-existent and audiences become voyeurs. Young audiences easily become involved in situations and dubious relationships, disagreements and brawls. They empathize with participants because they feel that “real and normal” people represent them. Reality and fantasy are blurred. The consequences of bad behavior and poor choices are never questioned. On the contrary, bad behavior is welcomed because sensationalism attracts more viewers. The danger lies in that they lose sight of their own sense of self-worth and critical thinking. In real life, actions do have consequences. Other critics have pointed out the danger of stereotyping by gender or race in these reality series. One sees the swaggering, aggressive, competitive male, the loud party girl, the manipulating bitch, the trashy white girl or the black girl with an attitude.

Most of the reality series mentioned have originated in English-speaking countries where democracy rests on the belief that all men are created equal and should be treated with respect. Schools try to teach ethics and tolerance. Many schools and communities have established organizations set up to fight bullying. In reality series where harassment and humiliation are essential ingredients, bullying is part of the basic concept. In the real world where media plays such an important role, perhaps it is time to question the value of these programs. Is it really worth giving up one’s integrity for the sake of entertainment?


Sit with a partner and discuss which of the series mentioned above you would categorize as "The Good", "The Bad" or "The Ugly". Explain the concept and tell why.


  1. Develop your own reality series. Include the following:
    • Title
    • Concept
    • Target group
    • Location
    • Structure
    • Segments/situations developed for emotional impact
    • Types of contestants/candidates
    • Outcome of series
  2. Now write a pilot manuscript including all of the above.


Cultural Aspects

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