Reality TV

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As reality TV (German: reality television ) refers to a genre of television programs, in which attempts allegedly or in fact, represent reality. If this happens in the form of a show, it is called a reality show .


The term Reality TV comes from the United States and was initially only used for re-enactment stories based on a true event. However, this definition turned out to be unsatisfactory when the term reality television is limited to simulated realities. Not every broadcast that depicts reality belongs to reality TV. Grimm defines reality television as a form of program "that claims to present realities in the sense of everyday life on the basis of events that break through the familiar ". Recurring experiences in work and family count in particular to the living environment of an individual. This also includes one-off experiences such as marriage, birth, illness or death. The focus of a reality TV program is precisely on these experiences, which are in contrast to the everyday world. Reality television does not present reality as a whole, but shows everyday life in exceptional situations.

Klaus / Lücke defined reality television: "With the term" Reality TV "we refer to a television genre that has been widespread in German television since the early 1990s and which has elements of several other genres, such as series and documentary ." Angela Keppler distinguishes between narrative reality television and performative reality television . Performative reality television is " entertainment programs that turn themselves into a stage for prominent actions, which nonetheless intervene directly or specifically in the everyday reality of people." In narrative reality television, the "viewers are entertained with the authentic or simulated reproduction of actual catastrophes" .

Wegener characterizes reality TV programs in the mid-1990s, the common basis of which are actual events that are re-enacted or recorded by eyewitnesses through video recordings. The division of the program into individual fragments is a common feature of the Reality TV genre. The sections between the contributions are introduced, connected or summarized by the moderator in order to guide the viewer through the program.

Furthermore, according to Wegener, the broadcasts of reality television show the following characteristics:

  • Real events are either realistically reproduced or documented using original film material.
  • The events primarily have no (or only rarely) direct reference to current, socially relevant topics.
  • The events essentially show people who either exercise and / or suffer psychological and / or physical violence.
  • The individual contributions address various events that are not directly related to one another.

General characteristics

Reality TV today describes a wide range of formats that are very different. However, there are some characteristics that apply to almost all formats.

  • The broadcast is usually regular in the form of a series and at least once a week, so that the viewer gets an impression of continuity .
  • Attempts are made to force situations that are attractive to the viewer, for example emotional outbursts in normal people or the prevention of a spectacular crime by the police. These situations should occur without acting, instead the desired effect is achieved through the selection of person, situation and location. Examples are the outbursts of joy after receiving a converted house or car or a successful cosmetic operation.
  • When editing the scenes, dramaturgical means are used, such as background music. A voice from the off is mostly used deliberately not or only in cutscenes in order to emphasize the effect of “reality”, of “being there”.

It is difficult to differentiate between reality TV and conventional documentary programs, and game shows also often have elements of reality. Generally speaking, reality TV is used when the camera is at a certain time at a certain location and films all situations that occur there, whereas with conventional documentaries, specific situations are specifically filmed and edited. Reality TV programs are also cut and summarized before they are broadcast, but the situations themselves are filmed in a random manner, there is no script and usually no acting. An example should make this clear: While a conventional documentary about the work of the police makes use of specifically filmed recordings of special situations, in a reality TV series in the style of COPS the camera typically accompanies the police in their daily work, so that coincidence a plays a major role in the occurrence of the situations. Reality TV is often broadcast in the form of a series with the camera filming the same way each time.

In colloquial language, the term reality TV is mainly used for expressions after around 1990, when reality TV formats experienced a long-lasting upswing with a peak around 2000 that continues to this day. However, earlier forms, such as the hidden camera , also belong strictly to the genre.


Reality TV has its origins in the 1940s. The American show Candid Camera filmed the reactions of normal passers-by to gags as early as 1948. In the 1950s, a wide range of game and competitive shows emerged, including the first talent or casting shows , the winners of which have already become national celebrities ( Miss America ). The first reality show in the modern sense was An American Family (1973), which showed a normal family's path through divorce.

From the end of the 80s, the formats were invented that still shape reality shows today. COPS (1989) showed police officers at work and was thus the ancestor of all documentary-style reality shows. In Germany, the concept was successfully tried out by WDR in 1990 with the Fussbroichs - the film series lasted for 11 years. The Dutch show number 28 (1991) was the first in which strangers were placed in an artificial environment (a house with the number 28) for a period of time and filmed in the process. The concept was in 1992 in the show The Real World of MTV picked up, which has been internationally successful to date. With Changing Rooms , the concept was introduced on British television in 1996 to have living rooms changed by a group of filmed people in a show, this concept was later further developed by programs such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Pimp my Ride . In 1997, Expedition Robinson (known as Survivor in the USA and Stranded in Germany ) was the first reality game show in Sweden , in which the protagonists, unknown normal people, compete against each other for the audience's favor while they are being filmed. This concept was taken up in 1999 by Big Brother , probably the most successful reality show to date, in a domestic setting. In the same year there was a renaissance of the casting shows ( pop stars , later Germany is looking for the superstar ).

Radicalization can currently be observed. In the USA in particular , the battle for ratings is driving broadcasters to increasingly bizarre ideas. Most recently, cosmetic operations were performed in front of the camera, which the participating candidates had requested. Then the audience could decide who was the “most beautiful”. In Japan, more extreme formats have been popular for a long time and are correspondingly more radical. So there was z. B. Programs in which young men were abandoned in South Africa and filmed as they had to hitchhike to Scandinavia to collect their home flight tickets.

In Germany at the end of 2009 there were more than 60 programs per week that belong to the genre. The reason for the success is the low production costs in relation to the good ratings. Due to the number of programs, an increasing shortage of protagonists and a need for increasing dramatization, actors are increasingly being used in so-called scripted reality formats .


There are numerous sub-forms of reality TV, the best-known being reality soaps or so-called docutainment ( COPS , The Real World ) and reality game shows ( Big Brother ).

Reality soaps

In reality soaps, the element of reality TV is used to document certain situations. This is mostly either the everyday life of people (e.g. The Real World , The Osbournes , The Hills ) or the work of professional groups ( COPS , The Super Nanny ).

Reality game shows

In reality game shows, players are filmed either around the clock or at certain times of the day. Some of these shows are about gaining a high level of audience approval or the other attendees, like Big Brother , Girlscamp, and most reality dating shows ( The Bachelor ). In other shows, a specific goal must be met and progress is either measured or judged by a jury (diet duel). Both forms of play are often combined, such as in reality casting shows ( Popstars , Fame Academy ), in which both a jury and the audience decide who to stay in the program.

Reality game shows were ethically controversial when they first appeared in the second half of the 1990s, as participation in such a show usually entails a complete loss of privacy. One hypothetical form is described in the film The Truman Show (1998), in which a person lives on a reality show from birth without his knowledge. In 2006 there were plans in Germany to document the birth of a baby and its first months in the Big Brother format . However, these plans have not yet been implemented.

Hidden Camera

The hidden camera is the oldest form of the genre and has existed since the late 1940s (Candid Camera). Here one or more people are filmed without their knowledge in a certain situation that was previously arranged. In order to prevent legal problems (protection of privacy), the sequences are only broadcast if the “victim” subsequently agrees to the broadcast.

Artificially created situations

Related to the hidden camera is a genre of reality TV in which artificial situations are created in which actors take on important parts. The protagonists know that they are being filmed, but the actors create situations that are supposed to surprise them. Such programs often have a humorous background. A well-known example is the British Da Ali G Show , in which the characters Ali G , Borat and Bruno fake the recording of a documentary program in so-called mockumentarys , even if the actual goal is to record the natural reactions of the people being filmed. Actors were also integrated in some versions of the Big Brother format (in Germany around the second and third seasons) in order to provoke conflicts.

Another form is shooting with a hidden camera without the protagonist's knowledge, which is used in the controversial show Tatort Internet - Finally Protect Our Children . Here, an actor provokes an actual or alleged criminal act.

Self improvement and help shows

In makeover shows , a variant of the reality soap, a person is filmed improving himself or his environment. Either the improvement is done by laypeople (example: changing rooms, in which rooms are redesigned), or by experts, as in the case of various shows in which the protagonists undergo facial or other cosmetic operations. A later development were so-called help or coaching formats (Emotainment), in which celebrities or semi-celebrities are supposed to help people in need in coping with their everyday lives. They range from educational assistance ( The Super Nanny ), marriage, nutrition, health or debt counseling to job or training searches and other topics. They are also controversial.

Living history

The Living History format is based on models such as reenactment . In Germany, Black Forest House 1902 and similar programs, especially those of the public television stations, became known. In the 1900 House series, based on the British model and awarded the Grimme Prize , a family was supposed to run a farm under the conditions of the turn of the century before last. An early evening series was also advertised in an East Elbe manor around 1900. The mostly scientifically accompanied format was continued in programs such as Die Bräuteschule 1958 or Steinzeit - Das Experiment .

Related formats

Related to reality TV are many formats in which natural reactions are provoked by people in a traditional setting. Above all, the talk shows of the 90s should be mentioned here, in which personal problems of the protagonists are addressed and thus real emotional outbursts are to be provoked. Modern reality shows such as Jackass and most casting shows are also related to reality TV, since here too natural reactions are provoked by the protagonists.

Scripted Reality (Pseudo Reality TV)

Scripted Reality is a genre in which a reality show is given, but the scenes are shot by actors. In terms of their design, such shows hardly differ from traditional theater programs or television series, but seemingly everyday situations are chosen as the topic.

Ethical aspects

Especially with reality game shows, there was controversy at the beginning as to whether they were compatible with human rights. The participants in such programs usually give up all of their privacy while the show is running. The first two successful formats of this kind - Expedition Robinson (1997) and Big Brother (1999) - have received much criticism to this day, but they have now established themselves as a genre in the television landscape. The broadcasters secure themselves by declarations of consent from the participants, so that legal action against such formats is hardly possible.

In one case in Italy on May 12, 2009 the Supreme Court, the Corte Suprema di Cassazione , ruled that an offensive verbal statement among reality show participants does not constitute defamation or defamation . The Supreme Court found that reality shows are characterized by wanted and wanted verbal arguments and that reality show participants are also aware of this.


In general, some formats have a dubious reputation as e.g. Sometimes they take up irrelevant topics or are produced cheaply. Critics also believe that the formats only encourage the viewer's voyeurism , and that the people involved could be psychologically damaged by the sudden attention they receive. Media scientists also speak of so-called affect television . In addition, the line between documentation of actual events and given scripts - keyword scripted reality - is deliberately blurred by the production companies in some formats.

Another major point of criticism is the influence of these formats on the recipients , to whom it is suggested that everyone has the opportunity to step out of the anonymity of a faceless mass society. Of course, the relationship between the “stars next door” and the production company, which sees the product rather than the people, is left out. The broadcasters' argument about the obvious banality or brutality of these formats is the reference to the fact that viewers should decide for themselves what they want to see and what not. What all these programs have in common is the extensive lack of a meta-level , a reflection on being observed, because this is the only way to maintain the faked authenticity.

The success of the TV concept illustrates a change in the perception of both oneself and others by protagonists and viewers. The loss of privacy or intimacy is accepted in favor of, albeit brief, popularity or not perceived as such at all. It becomes clear in what form television determines the yardstick for social or personal success. Success is defined by the degree of popularity achieved and no longer by classic success criteria such as professional, cultural or scientific achievements.

The Zurich communication and media psychologist Daniel Süss said of the success of these formats: “ Emotional programs distract from the often monotonous everyday life and allow one to get involved in other fates without entering into obligations. The formats arouse strong emotions, be it sympathy, surprise, glee or indignation. "


  • On March 22, 2013, a 25-year-old Frenchman died in Cambodia of heart failure after participating in the series Koh Lanta , a jungle camp- like format by the production company Adventure Line Productions (ALP) for the French commercial broadcaster TF1 . The 38-year-old emergency physician of the shipment committed suicide after repeated public accusations against him a few days later suicide .


  • Christian Hißnauer: "Living history - The present is alive". On the relation to reality of the history format, in Harro Segeberg (ed.): References. On the theory and history of the real in the media . Schüren, Marburg 2009 ISBN 978-3-89472-673-7 , pp. 120-140
  • Joan Bleicher: "We love to entertain you!" Observations on the current development of television formats. Series: Hamburger Hefte zur Medienkultur (HHM), Hamburg 2006 ISSN  1619-5442 Online (June 19, 2012)
  • Heike vom Orde: Children, young people and reality TV . A summary of selected research results. In: Televizion . tape 25 , no. 1 , 2012, ISSN  0943-4755 , p. 40–43 ( PDF file; 0.85 MB - overview of the current state of research with regard to the use and effect of reality TV formats on adolescents).

Web links

Wiktionary: Reality TV  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Grimm, Jürgen: Reality TV and everyday orientation. On the fascination of life support formats. An online publication on the occasion of the tv impulse conference "Education Problems and Eating Culture", FSF Berlin January 18, 2008, pp. 80
  2. Grimm, Jürgen: Reality TV and everyday orientation. On the fascination of life support formats. An online publication on the occasion of the tv impulse conference "Education Problems and Eating Culture", FSF Berlin January 18, 2008, p. 80
  3. cf. Grimm, Jürgen: Reality TV and everyday orientation. On the fascination of life support formats. An online publication on the occasion of the tv impulse conference "Education Problems and Eating Culture", FSF Berlin January 18, 2008, p. 81
  4. cf. Klaus, Elisabeth / Lücke, Stephanie (2003) Reality TV - definition and characteristics of a successful genre family using the example of Reality Soap and Docu Soap. In: Medien und Kommunikationwissenschaft, 2 (2003) Baden-Baden: Nomos, p. 196
  5. cf. Keppler, Angela (1994): More Real than Reality? The new reality principle of television entertainment. Frankfurt / M .: Fischer, p. 8f
  6. cf. Keppler, Angela (1994): More Real than Reality? The new reality principle of television entertainment. Frankfurt / M .: Fischer, p. 8
  7. Wegener, Claudia: Reality TV: Television between emotion and information? (1994) Opladen: Leske and Budrich, pp. 15th
  8. Wegener, Claudia: Reality TV: Television between emotion and information? (1994) Opladen: Leske and Budrich, p. 17th
  9. - ( Memento of January 4, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  10. ^ The Spiegel Online reality trap of October 19, 2009, accessed on October 21, 2010.
  11. ^ A pedophile hunt in the style of a horror film , Die Welt, October 19, 2010; See also: "Exercise in cold-heartedness" published in full in: WOZ - Die Wochenzeitung No. 10 of March 10, 2011, page 23 or as an online article: "Exercises in cold-heartedness" without a short interview with Fritz Wolf (media journalist)
  12. DWDL: Help shows under criticism
  13. Stern: Helper Shows - Does TV Make Us Better People?
  14. The cheap and the willing Die Zeit of August 21, 2003 No. 35
  15. Court decision of May 12, 2009 of the Corte Suprema di Cassazione , published on September 23, 2009
  16. ^ Süddeutsche Zeitung: Deaths in TV production in France on April 2, 2013.
  17. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Dangerous games of March 11, 2015.
  18. The article also contains a differentiation between reality and docu-soap forms
  19. Section 4: an examination of the development of current formats of reality television