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History of Reality TV

Reality TV as we know it began back in 1992 when MTV first broadcast The Real World, also around the time when dish networks were making their debut. It was an experimental show that took seven people from different backgrounds and placed them in a house to live together for several months and have their interactions filmed. It wasn't even known as reality tv back then, more so as a documentary. Today, reality tv programming has exploded. You can hardly turn on the television - to any channel - and not find a reality show. It was in 2002 when CBS's blockbuster hit called Survivor finally gave reality tv a name. A cast of regular people were exiled to a desert island to survive and undermine each other to win the grand prize of one million dollars. It is certainly a far cry from games shows in the Seventies that could only offer refrigerators to the winners.

How has reality tv changed since it began? For one thing, the channels are flooded with reality shows. This season, there are no less than seven primetime reality tv shows on the big four: ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. And the cable channels are getting on the reality tv bandwagon as well. A&E serves up Growing Up Gotti and Family Plots while Bravo is doing Sports Kids Moms and Dads, Top Chef, Project Runway and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a reality show that put Bravo on the map. Even educational channels like Discovery are producing reality tv hits like The Deadliest Catch and Monster Garage.

Another way reality tv has changed is that it is much more graphic now. In the first season of The Real World, it was real people living together. Now it has become seven people who are acting as they think they should based on the past sixteen seasons. Sex has become rampant since the Las Vegas season and roommate hookups, something only thought of the first few seasons, is now common place. Turn on reality tv show Fear Factor and you can see contestants eating maggots, worms, grasshoppers and other things they probably wouldn't think of eating if a tv camera weren't aimed at them.

All this may cause you to wonder... where is reality tv headed? It doesn't seem to be destined to end any time soon. Many reality cast members have become pseudo-stars. People who don't even watch reality tv know names like Richard Hatch, Omarosa and Ruben Studdard. Real Worlders Mike "The Miz" Mizinan and Coral Smith from Season 10 have remained on television in various Real World reunions, contests, "Best of" shows and reality series for the past six years.

Even celebrities are getting in on the craze. Celebrity Fit Club just started its second season, Martha Stewart has an upcoming show this fall - even Tommy Lee, once the poster boy for drugs and decadence - has joined reality tv by going to college. And as if we care, we can find out what it's like Being Bobby Brown. Personally, I think reality tv maybe be due for a backlash against it. There is very few reality tv shows that are still based in reality. After the first year of a reality tv show, the contestants have inside clues as to how to act and what is "expected" of them rather than reacting naturally. It's like the game show craze of the late Nineties. At one point, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was so popular, it was airing four nights a week. People simply became overwhelmed and bored with it at the same time. This may happen to reality tv shows. The difference is reality tv shows keep reinventing themselves. As reality tv shows that once defined a station like Survivor and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy are waning in ratings, new shows with different themes are popping up and getting great ratings elsewhere. But at some point, we will have covered most subjects and will anyone really want to see "So I Want to be an Amish Quilter?" I think not.

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