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The Real World turns 20 today: seven strangers spawned 27+ seasons, 20 years of reality TV

On May 21, 1992, MTV debuted The Real World, with its creators, Jonathan Murray and Mary-Ellis Bunim, taking a cue from PBS’ American Family and turning real people’s lives into a soap opera. But as the introduction said, this wasn’t a pre-existing family, but something else:

“This is the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped. Find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real: The Real World.

It’s impossible to overestimate the show’s impact on popular culture and television today, so I won’t even try, but everything we watch today and call reality television started here and carries its DNA.

And, of course, the show gave us a lot of entertainment on its own. Just watch this montage of the first 25 seasons’ intros and see how much comes back. I remember getting choked up watching the season finale of Boston, and didn’t quite understand that until I realized I’d gotten to know these people and spent considerable time with them each week. That’s the show’s greatest gift: It showed us how interesting, revealing, informative, and engaging real people’s lives could be.

Programming note: I’m taking a badly-timed break (Celebrity Apprentice finale!) to unplug and recharge. Back in a few days.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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