Long before I became obsessed with The Real World, my first TV addiction was Mister Rogers Neighborhood on PBS. PBS continues to lead with shows like Molly of Denali. with programming and other resources for parents and kids.
PBS turned 50 years old on Sunday, providing five decades of public television to the American public: shows for kids and adults, and programs that range from pure entertainment to news. For 17 years now, it’s been the most-trusted institution in the United States, “with 73% of those polled trusting PBS’s public affairs programs over that of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News,” according to PBS. And it does that for only about $1.35 per American every year.
In its life, PBS has also produced and/or broadcast a lot of great nonfiction television, through series like American Masters, Great Performances, NOVA, and Nature, and also the documentary series POV and Independent Lens, which continue to showcase excellent work and make it available to Americans for free.
In the nonfiction space, PBS may be best-known for Ken Burns’ epic documentary series. As they unfold stories from the past, whether it’s The Civil War or Baseball, they’re more about people than places or events.
But PBS has, throughout its history, has also broadcast shows that go beyond documentaries and definitely qualify as reality television, at least by my definition.
It has long-running shows like This Old House, the renovation series that laid the groundwork for all of HGTV’s shows, and new series like Marcus Samuelsson’s No Passport Required. It’s even broadcast a show hosted by a former Survivor winner.
On PBS’s 50th anniversary, I’ve collected five reality shows (actually, more, because I cheated) worth watching, one for each decade of PBS’s life. Here’s to another 50 years of outstanding and entertaining nonfiction television.