THE FUTURE OF REALITY TV

"So...these shows will have just like regular people OK?..but cooler than just regular people, because you know, they're like...on TV and stuff"

I’m sure if someone told you ten short years ago about what would pass for entertainment in 2012, you would have looked at them as if perhaps they’d lost their mind.

“There’s going to be a show about an exterminator, OK?  The camera follows him around while he gets raccoons out of attics and knocks hornets’ nests down from porches.  Sometimes he gets stung by the bees and possums try to bite him.  He wears a funny hat and he’s like..a rocker dude?  Then, there’s gonna be this other show, OK?  where they follow meter maids around in Philadelphia while they give parking tickets and put boots on cars.  It’s gonna be really funny because it makes Philly look even worse than usual.  Cool, right? There’s all kinds of people screaming and yelling ’cause you know, nobody likes having their car towed and stuff.  Then, there’s gonna be this other cool show where you watch people make cakes, but wait, don’t make that face, cause they’re really cool cakes that don’t even look like cakes man, and the bakers are all like these kind of Soprano-talking dudes and then…”

By this point you’d have tuned the person out and tried not to roll your eyes at their insane rambling.  He’s off his meds again – hide the pets.

Of course, as we know all too well, these are all shows which have actually come to life in these strange times.

Now the obvious question: What next?  What could possibly be more interesting than watching inept, out-of-work loggers trying to mine gold in Alaska?  What in the world could compare with the trials and tribulations of rich, suburban housewives from Atlanta, Orange County or New York?  Hold on to your hard-hats and/or breast implants people, because I’ve figured it out!

Several of these shows have already given us hints as to the future of reality entertainment.  “The Deadliest Catch” stepped away from showing the gritty, tough lives of crab fishermen in the Bering Sea and focused instead on their own difficult job of recording the gritty, tough lives of crab fishermen in the Bering Sea.  That’s right – they showed the cameramen, sound guys and producers of the show as they worked in challenging conditions to film the fishermen.  On a special episode of “Gold Rush”, the emphasis was on filming the film crew running around to catch all the action as miners threw tantrums and pick-axes (OK, I’ll admit, I didn’t see anyone threw a pick-axe – it’s called poetic license).

A brief, but necessary detour from our topic: It’s a fact that nothing is more appealing to show-biz people than shows about show biz-people.  You can see it now and way-back-when in entertainment from sixty or seventy years ago.  The black and white movie flickers on the screen, some freckle-faced young actor calls out “Hey kids!  Let’s put on a show!”.  Soon the whole gang is building scenery and practicing dance numbers.  There were notably fewer movies where the freckle-faced youngster calls out “Hey kids, let’s open a veterinary clinic” or “Say fellas, wouldn’t it be swell if we started our own full service nail salon right here on Main Street?!”

In the years since, there’s been plenty of narcissistic examples of show biz focusing on itself.  Movies and TV series like “Fame”, “A Chorus Line”, “A Star Is  Born” and more recently “Smash” all tell the stories of people acting and singing all about their lives acting and singing.

I know what you’re thinking: “Dave, what the hell does ‘Smash’ and ‘A Chorus Line’ have to do with reality TV?”   Keep your pants on, I told you it was a brief detour, didn’t I?

Show biz has waited patiently for America to get through this awkward phase of infatuation with reality TV.  Now they have found the gateway back into our viewing hearts.  Drum roll please…The next phase in reality shows is:

Reality shows about the making of reality shows!  The reality show will have less emphasis on the subject of the show and increasingly focus on the people who make the reality shows.  After the new “show about a show about a baker” phase runs its course, the logical evolutionary step into the future will be “a show about a show about a show about an exterminator”.  There will be a brief period where cameramen and sound engineers will be as famous as Kardashians.

In this scene, one of the miners takes over the sound boom to catch the audio as the camera crew pushes a car. A second camera crew records this special moment. In the next phase, a third camera crew will record the second camera crew - capturing the gutsy intensity of people filming other people who are filming other people who are pushing a car.

As the number of people on-camera swells, it will be increasingly difficult for producers to count on so many people who have traditionally been on the opposite side of the lens to act naturally.  Since the 1st and 2nd camera units will no longer be shooting any actual footage, the producers will eventually replace them with good looking young actors and actresses.

Within a few additional years, the viewers, who aren’t all that bright to begin with, will not be able to tell reality TV from scripted TV.  Television will once again be in the business of telling stories.  Writers, long thought extinct, will creep back into brainstorming sessions.  Actors, who were already confused by all of this, will settle back into the simple job of pretending to be a fictional character in a scene, rather than posing as a cameraman in a show about a show about a show about people who buy abandoned storage lockers.

Got it?

I didn’t think so.  Don’t worry, just keep watching TV and it will all be explained to you in due time.

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8 thoughts on “THE FUTURE OF REALITY TV

  1. You can tell that dude you pictured is some reality TV guy because his hair is way cooler than anyone’s hair in real life. Erm, I mean in real life that’s not on television. Anyway, interesting thesis. Have you considered graduate studies in Television Theory? BTW, love the show about that hillbilly exterminator guy – and the “Real” Housewives. Oh, the irony! Nice post. Can’t wait to see it come true. If I never watch another show about cake-making, it’ll be too soon. Bring on the gaffer (and please explain what a gaffer is in the first episode)!

    1. A “gaffer” is like a “key grip”, but not as high ranking as a “best boy”…hope that clarifies things for you. People don’t know what they’re missing when they leave the theater while the credits are still rolling… for the record, I regret leaving all references to the long island medium out of my piece, but she scares me a little.
      As for graduate studies, my wife has forbidden me to go back for any more degrees – what a kill joy!

  2. Oh man, please spare me the torment. I hate reality shows and I know I’d hate reality shows *about* reality shows. Personally I always thought “gaffer” was a British country word for “grandpa.”

  3. There is nothing “real” that that you watch that hasn’t been carefully casted,scripted and loaded with product placement. Edward Barnays figured it out years ago, and the machine has been moving ever since.

  4. I’m disappointed you didn’t touch on my favorite – “Swamp people”, where the “characters” hunt alligators. Troy (or to here him introduce himself “Twoy”, due to the lack of teeth in his mouth) would have to be my favorite. I cannot lie, I have sat through an episode due to curiosity and found myself laughing at the sheer idiocy. My favorite part was when Twoy and Elizabeth come upon an alligator and Twoy screams “Shoooot ’em Lisbeth, shoot ’em!”. Worth watching once just to hear that….

    1. You’ll be happy to know that I too have sat through a few episodes of that train-wreck of a show. I decided to limit my references to specific reality shows to a minimum in order to stay on topic. The list goes on and on, with new ones cropping up faster than you can say “Lizbeth! It’s the big one!” – Oh wait, that’s Sanford and son.

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