Why it matters if reality TV is real or not

Of all the fallout after last week’s revelation that House Hunters is often faked, I was most bothered by two reactions that I have heard over and over and over again during the two decades–20 years!–since the dawn of reality television in the form of The Real World.

Those responses: 1) All reality TV is fake, and 2) It doesn’t matter if reality TV is real or not. Both are bullshit, and I explain why in this essay for The Daily Beast.

There are some people who will insist that all or nearly all reality shows are fake, or are scripted, or use actors, or whatever. That’s moronic and sounds so ignorant it’s sad, but it’s an easy way of avoiding critical thinking. The truth is there’s great diversity in reality TV, from the fakey fake fake to the brutally real, and how real or fake a show is depends upon so many different factors that it’d take a book to identify them all.

More importantly, however, is that it really does matter when reality TV isn’t real, because the label “reality TV” has meaning that changes our relationship to the show.

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.

Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.