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Here's something I'm curious about: if you were asked to name the original Big Three of the current generation of reality shows (say, from the late 1990s to the present, not any antecedents of what we now know as reality shows), what would you name?

I'd say American Idol, Survivor and Big Brother. I've never watched Survivor, and BB is nowhere near as popular as it once was, but those are the three that strike me nonscientifically as the progenitors of the current glut of reality shows.

Of course, I don't generally like reality shows, so this is more a gut reaction than anything else. Sound off: what do you think are the Holy Trinity of (American) Reality Television?


Jan. 30th, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
Sound off: what do you think are the Holy Trinity of (American) Reality Television?

I think that's a sentence best left unuttered.
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
I don't like most of them either, but it's a question worth exploring -- it sort of gives a clue as to why later shows took the direction they did. "BB" had a terrific premise but instantly became one of the worst shows imaginable, while "AI" has gotten huge, with tons of devoted fans, despite a pretty simple and boring premise.
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
I don't think Big Brother was ever very important in America, but maybe I'm remembering wrong.

I'd say The Real World, Survivor, and American Idol. The Real World was the start to everything.
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
Damn if you're not right. I overexaggerate the influence of BB because it was a big deal to me, but in terms of the 'put-a-diverse-group-of-people-in-a-jar-and-shake-it-up' genre, The Real World definitely got there first.
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
I had thought that, but had also thought it was too old to fit into the reality show boom that you were talking about. It's an odd little thing -- I mean, my cousins were watching The Real World when I was a kid (I'm, uh, more than 25 but less than 30 now, for reference), and while it certainly had its following, it really just sort of went along doing its own thing without being part of any wider genre. Then there was Survivor, and everything changed (in the U.S.) And despite the fact that today's reality shows have taken a huge amount of inspiration from The Real World, it still isn't really thought of as a reality show per se. I sort of feel bad for the creators of that show, although I'm sure they're doing perfectly fine financially and all. They're not getting their credit due though.
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
Well, Big Brother came on the scene right when Survivor did, but it was pretty much of a kind with it and simultaneously far inferior, so its inclusion seems redundant.

I'd think you'd need a Real World, which really set the stage for Survivor et al by training a generation to accept the idea that a tv show could be nothing more than ten "real" people trapped on a set, or a celeb-reality show (Flavor of Love? I totally forget which was the 'first' of the new crop) to really give yourself a trinity.
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
You're right about Real World (see above), but I think of celebrity reality shows as sort of a second-generation phenomenon; after the first-gen reality shows were starting to get thin, that's when someone said "hey, let's do _________ (insert reality show here)...with CELEBRITIES!" Yeah, it became a huge subgenre, but it wasn't there at the jump-off.
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
Good point, but I feel the same way about AI; it didn't come along until '02, long after the "big bang" of reality tv.
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
I'd say replace Big Brother with The Bachelor. While its popularity has waned, it was hugely influential to the current crop of MTV/VH1 shows that feature musical has-beens, and its format was completely new for what it was.

Also, does the Real World count? It came out in the early 90s, but has obviously had staying power.
Jan. 30th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
Yes, I would agree with The Bachelor, as it spawned a whole slew of these "find your soul mate among these 25 pre-selected dimwits" shows.
Jan. 30th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
if you're going to be a real purist about it (ha!!!) Fox's scandalous Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire (in which the dude turned out to have a criminal record or something?) was the origin of that genre. But I'm not sure if the Holy Trinity is about most influential or most recognized/popular of a genre.

omg shut me up about this.
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Would American Idol count as "reality TV", though? I mean, yes, it's unscripted (largely) and it has that undercurrent of "Hey, look at the freaks and the assholes!" that seems to really be the defining characteristic of all American reality television, but genre-wise I'd guess it has much more of a lineage from performance television like Soul Train and Star Search than from Real World (although one could also argue that performance TV is just a sub-genre of reality TV...).

Anyway, I think Survivor was the catalyst for modern reality TV, although Real World, even if it's outside your time frame, is the first show I can think of that set the template for pretty much all the reality shows of the 2000s. Lastly I'd throw in The Biggest Loser, since I think it was the first reality TV show to use a thin excuse of "helping people's lives" to disguise even more cynical voyeurism of the lives of assholes and social misfits, which is probably the big trend right now.

Edited at 2009-01-30 02:52 pm (UTC)
Jan. 30th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
I think reality teevee basically branches down into three categories:

Competitive skill-based (Amazing Race, American Idol, et cetera)
Competitive social-based (Survivor, Big Brother, and so forth)
Non-competitive social-based (The Real World, The Simple Life, and most of the other crap)

Thus your trinity has to include one from each category, and as much as I prefer the earlier and better Amazing Race or later and superior So You Think You Can Dance, you have to give competitive-skill-based to American Idol. Likewise, nothing even touches Survivor (which, incidentally, you would likely grow hooked upon if you began watching) in the competitive social category.

That leaves non-competitive social, and you can argue Real World based on it setting the precedent for reality teevee in general, but it was always a minor sort of trendoid show rather than a Real Big Thing. I think the flagbearer for successful non-competitive reality teevee has to be - as much as I despise it - The Hills.
Jan. 30th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
SOLITARY is the only reality show that is worth anything these days. It's the epitome of sadism.
Jan. 30th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
Man, Fox Reality Channel, what is wrong with you!
Jan. 30th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
Jan. 30th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
I don’t know. If you’re considering American Idol, which is basically just The Arthur Godfrey Show with tits, I’d think you’d have to go back a lot further than The Real World for your forerunners. What about Star Search? What about Dance Fever? What about every show in the ‘80s with sweaty stand up comics in front of a brick wall?

Jan. 30th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
Big Brother was a huge influence on the genre, just not in the US. For some reason Americans just didn't watch it, but Europeans loved it and they made several series over there. From this data I speculate that everyone in Europe is a perverted voyeur.

Also, as has been mentioned, Real World, while certainly not the originator, was surely the genesis of the format being profitable and commercial in the US. Probably Road Rules as well, but to a far lesser degree.
Jan. 30th, 2009 11:13 pm (UTC)
Reality Shows I've Ever Seen an Episode Of: (*English teacher drops dead*)

- Real World... I had passionate arguments with friends about this in college. "Why are you watching OTHER PEOPLE live their lives when you could, like, leave the house or something?!?"

- Amazing Race. Did this precede Survivor? It came upon my radar first, and the first season or two were actually tolerable.

- um... Survivor comes to mind, but maybe only because it has sort of become the quintessential reality show.
Jan. 30th, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)
Craziest show evah
Extreme Makeover had to be retooled as Extreme Makeover House Edition, (or something like that.) Did you ever see it? The took normal looking women, plastic surgeried them into caricatures, had them diet into skeletal territory, and outfitted them with hooker clothes and makeup. And let us not speak of the hair extensions.

American Idol of course. Some blogs and forums exist only to praise it.

And the creeptastic America's Funniest Videos. I've have a history of trying to distract house guests from this show with snacks and conversation as they suffered withdrawal pangs and goggled in amazement that I don't watch it, don't love it, don't wait all week to treasure every moment of it.
Jan. 31st, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
Re: Craziest show evah
Even worse than Extreme Makeover was the show that added a hideous beauty pageant component to the basic EM framework: The Swan. Every single story was tragic, half the contestants were psychological disaster areas, and nearly every single one of the women ended up looking like an extremely glamorous drag queen.
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Craziest show evah
Oh God, I forgot that was the original incarnation of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. God, they gave these women all this plastic surgery and at the end they weren't even pretty, just vapid-looking and characterless. What an awful show.
Jan. 31st, 2009 12:55 am (UTC)
Is American Idol actually a reality show? Mawkish parading of personal tragedies in sleekly edited packages aside, it's a competition, shares more in common with Star*Search than, say, Survivor or BB. I believe a reality show requires there to be a narrative component driven by the interaction of the participants, and an absence of centralized 'lead characters' (as opposed to AI, which is Simon, Paula and Randy's show).

I think there is a flavor of reality shows in that vein of competitors pursuing a career-related goal, but ... well, man, for some reason the only one I could think of was WWF/WWE Tough Enough.

COPS probably predates your timeframe, but it's the parent of a number of lesser programs of that nature, all within the reality teevee fold. I agree that Real World is not only your true precendent, but practically defines the genre - however much competition there is, whatever the purported goal, unless it has Real World's carefully demographed An American Family makeup, I wouldn't say it's a reality program ...
Jan. 31st, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)
I think people are right to be pointing out The Real World, but I'd really put that in a completely different, and older, generation. It was really the fountainhead of this whole genre, and preceded the three shows you list by almost a decade. But for years it was fringe programming and hardly anyone other than MTV was doing it.

It really took the Europeans to see the more nutzoid potential in the genre, and all three of the shows you list were created there and then imported to the U.S. basically intact right around the same time. I'd say the three you list definitely have a certain shared prestige status, because it seems like homegrown versions like Extreme Makeover and The Amazing Race took another year or two to get going. I could be completely wrong, of course . . .
Jan. 31st, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC)
I shall nod here at Bravo, who seems to have a corner on the "quality" reality show market, such as it is.
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
Wikipedia tells me The Bachelor hit the scene in 2002, putting it two years after Survivor's 2000 premiere. Survivor really spawned the reality genre in the U.S. -- it basically singlehandedly revived CBS and changed the face of television, as I understand it -- and so The Bachelor would have been one of its first coattail-riders. I think of it as being pretty first-generation, anyway. Other'n that, I dunno. I feel like The Amazing Race, Fear Factor, and The Apprentice are all in roughly the same long-running, high-popularity, shoestring-budget category. Were I to kick a few of those out in order to make it a trinity, I think I'd kick out Amazing Race, leaving it with Survivor, The Bachelor, and The Apprentice. I don't think that I'd rank Big Brother, at least in the U.S., as high. But I'm drawing this almost entirely from the fact that when the reality show boom first hit, I was working in a bookstore and we had a huge magazine section which I was in large part responsible for organizing and shelving. As such, I stocked a lot of tabloid magazines and had a lot of awareness of which shows were hitting their covers most regularly. I don't actually watch much reality television at all.

As for American Idol, incidentally: I know everyone calls it a reality show, but I don't really get why. It's a game show crossed with a talent contest; Star Search did that, minus the home-voting part, 20 years ago. (And the home-voting part a.) is not an element of any other reality show that I know of and b.) is, I strongly suspect, bullshit. No one will ever convince me that they really tally up those votes and eliminate accordingly, anymore than I'll be convinced that the selection of contestants who make it on to the show is based primarily on singing ability.)

Edited at 2009-01-31 09:39 pm (UTC)