Reality television has been around longer than you think, and has shaped your life whether you watch it or not. These four shows prove that theory.
An American Family
The first reality television program that wasn’t a game show, this program was meant to chronicle the lives of one family, the Louds. It was filmed from May 30 through Dec. 31, 1971 and aired on PBS in 1973. From 300 hours of footage, they broadcast 13 episodes that documented the breakup and of Bill and Pat Loud, who subsequently divorced. Also, the show covered the coming-out of their gay son, Lance, who is known to be the first openly homosexual reality “star.”
Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?
Those lyrics are known by everyone thanks to the reality series Cops, which started airing in 1989 and has been bringing down the bad guys for 26 seasons. “Cops is filmed on location with the men and women of law enforcement. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,” is the phrase heard at the beginning of the show, and there begins the journey of beat cops in different cities across the U.S. There has been criticism that the show doesn’t cover white-collar crime and highbrow criminals, but those crimes are covered by detectives, not street cops. This gives viewers a look into the life of a beat cop and the types of calls they encounter on a daily basis.
The Real World
In May of 1992 the idea that began with An American Family was turned upside down when MTV debuted a series that would also chronicle the lives of people living together — but this time they would be young adults put together in a specifically chosen location. They were picked for the unique attributes they would provide to the situation, which the producers would edit into a story to air on television. The encounters may be true, but how they are edited and brought to viewers could be out of sequence. That’s left up to the directors.
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In 2000, the U.S. picked up an idea from a series running overseas called Expedition Robinson, based on the Swiss Family Robinson, that explored what it would be like to find yourself shipwrecked and alone on a deserted island. Survivor pits an average of 20 contestants against each other on an island. They segregate into two groups that have to secure food, water, fire and shelter for themselves while they compete in elimination challenges that weaken the group and the individuals. The challenges can be anything from eating worms to running an obstacle course. The series has become so ingrained in our culture that it’s commonplace to use the phrase, “you’ve been eliminated,” and for others to understand you, whether they have watched Survivor or not.