How reality TV has changed since ‘Real World’

30 years ago, MTV’s The Real World launched with its cast introducing the world to a newfangled way of storytelling: “This is the true story of seven strangers who were chosen to live in a house and whose lives are being chronicled to… figuring out what happens when people stop being polite… and start being real,” they said at the show’s opening. The first modern foray into reality TV, The Real World ran for more than 640 episodes — and changed television in the process.

But co-creator Jonathan Murray (with Mary-Ellis Bunim) says he never expected it to be such a success: “The Real World was very much a social experiment. The idea of ​​caring for people 24/7 for 13 weeks hadn’t materialized, and it was exhausting.” Despite that, he’s back in season two with spin-off The Real World Homecoming, saying, “With ‘Homecoming’ we see how people are [on the original series] were affected by this social experiment. Most seem to find it a positive experience.”

In a way, reality TV has been a part of television since the medium’s earliest days: “Candid Camera,” “Queen for a Day,” “Real People,” and “An American Family” all toyed with the idea of ​​putting cameras on non- Actors to judge in partially or fully artificial situations. But “Real World” took it to another level, spawning a genre that spread like kudzu across television programming in the decades that followed. Today, reality TV spans three non-technical Emmy categories, blurring the lines from the documentary genre (which has its own Emmy categories). But in that time, what reality TV actually is has become just as fuzzy.

“When unscripted programming is best, it reflects the real world,” said Brandon Riegg, vice president of unscripted and documentary shows at Netflix. “It can be one of the broadest or most diverse categories: There are shows that are emerging or influential but ultimately relational.”

Andy Cohen, host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen and executive producer of The Real Housewives franchise, adds, “The truth is absolutely stranger than fiction. What I love about reality is that it can go anywhere. It can uplift us or it can be a dumpster fire.”

Reality TV is going wild
When things get real, they can get really weird and really unforgettable. And after 30 years of modern reality TV, there were plenty of those moments. Here’s a look at three of them:

The Real World: Pedro Zamora’s Battle with HIV/AIDS (1994)

“He wanted the cameras to be present at the doctor’s appointments, and he got the news that his T-cell count had dropped to 32 when the cameraman, director and sound engineer all found out,” says Real World co-creator Jonathan Murray. “He was incredibly brave.”

“The Osbournes”: Entry (2002)

“They moved into their house on the first day of shooting, and the moving truck came with a box that said ‘Dead Things,'” recalls Queer Eye executive producer Jennifer Lane, who worked on the show’s crew at the time . “It was like a comedy. I was obsessed.”

Real Housewives of New Jersey: Teresa Freaks Out (2009)

During an argument between Teresa Giudice and Danielle Staub at a dinner party at a restaurant, Giudice went ballistic after being told to “watch out.” She banged on the table and finally turned it over. “It was so shocking and wild and a defining moment in the ‘Housewives’ pantheon,” said Andy Cohen, host of Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, who serves as Executive Producer on the Housewives series. “It left its mark”

– Randee Dawn

Perhaps because of this transformative, shape-shifting ability, reality TV has endured and has been around long enough to infiltrate popular culture—think The Truman Show, The Hunger Games, and Squid Game. The reality shows receiving Emmy nominations today are as varied as the colors of the rainbow: 2021 series nominees included RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked, Below Deck, Selling Sunset, Queer Eye ‘, ‘Antique Road Show’. and “Shark Tank”.

What will surface at the 2022 Emmys? It’s anyone’s guess; The nature of many reality TV shows is that they may skip a year or three while preparing for the next entry, while others may have multiple “seasons” in a single year. In 2020, Netflix’s “Cheer” took home three Emmys, a fact that still baffles creator Greg Whiteley.

“I couldn’t guess why ‘Cheer’ cleaned up so well,” he says, noting that there’s been a shift in what appeals to voters: shows that have more substance than glamor and actually show how Specialists excel in their specialty – including cheerleading. “When the dominant force of entertainment veers too far in one direction, like superhero movies or big-budget sci-fi movies, I wonder if that leaves a vacuum in people’s souls where they want something more original or relatable” , says Whiteley.

This reflects Heidi Klum’s experience. When she created Project Runway in the mid-2000s, she said she was told by executives, “Why would we want to watch people sew?” Two Emmys and 19 seasons later, Runway is still on (though without Klum ), and she’s moving on to Prime Video’s Making the Cut, a similar series where she’s executive producer, judge and host. “It was always about finding talented people for us,” she says. “That’s the premise of everything I’ve wanted to be a part of.”

A man holds a cheerleader up with one foot "To cheer."

Ayonna Eleby in Cheer.

(Kyle Alexander / Netflix)

A shirtless man bathes a dog in a metal tub "strange eye"

Antoni Porowski in Season 6 of Queer Eye.

(Ilana Panich-Linsman / Netflix)

Queer Eye, which rebooted on Netflix in 2018 and has won an Emmy for structured reality every year since, might not be about creation, but it does have that “homemade,” serious feel that Whiteley refers to. “We’re trying to put people where they are and really learn about them,” says executive producer Jennifer Lane. “We’re not trying to change people, we’re trying to move their shoulders in a new direction.”

Not that reality TV has gone soft; There are still many shows that get their thrills from the deprivation or embarrassment of the contestants, and there are many docu-soaps or occu-soaps (occupational soaps) that aim no higher than being “ambitious.” Take “Selling Sunset,” which focuses on high-end real estate agents and was nominated for a 2021 Emmy.

“It’s a form of escapism,” says executive producer Adam DiVello. “People see themselves on these shows, and it’s an escape. It’s easy to digest and fun to look at – it’s like candy. People know it’s not a documentary and it’s not being sold as one. We try to make it as entertaining as possible while telling a great story.”

Ultimately, which is true of all of them, no matter what decade or what kind of reality show: telling great stories. And because of that, says Queer Eye’s Lane, “there’s never a dull moment. There’s an old saying that there are only 50 stories, and we keep repeating them. We have a lot of fun with this social experiment. Do you know the movie “The Running Man”? That’s where we’re going.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-06-20/reality-tv-has-changed-since-real-world How reality TV has changed since ‘Real World’

Sarah Ridley

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