From the Kardashians to the bachelors, reality television shows have been broadcast more than enough to solidify their position in pop culture. Another form of entertainment is gaining popularity as well. Docu-series. The concept is pretty self-explanatory; these are documentaries filmed in a television series format. What do these two forms have in common? Well, they both claim to tell “real” stories about “real” people, which is the perfect way to lure in viewers who are willing to find out how true that claim is. Let’s take a closer look.
According to TV expert Krishnendu Ray, “competition food shows develop rules to make cooking more watchable.” This suggests that we don’t even watch competitive cooking shows to learn but to take pleasure in the sight of chef battles. To me, this is a shocking, new perspective. I always assumed that culinary shows were watched for the sake of improving one’s cooking skills. I’ll be the first to admit that I watch cooking shows for the sole purpose of looking at the end result, but for people who regularly cook at home, I now wonder if they watch for amusement or educational reasons. Another interesting look at food shows is what type of people host them. It never occurred to me that favorable TV personalities could be a factor in who could have a show. As a naive child, I simply thought these people had their own cooking shows because they were just that good at their job!
Of course entertainment is a reason why we watch television, but is there a deeper motive? Batya Ungar-Sargon suggests that it is because we see so much of ourselves in the contestants. Watching them play out bizarre scenarios that we could never dream of doing is precisely what hooks us to the show. When will we ever have the guts to compete with others for the love of our “soulmate” in a drunken mansion? When will we ever take up dance lessons and be scored critically for each move we make? Never. Besides a reality show. These shows allow a bit of our imaginations to play out on screen without us actually having to take that bold, first step. Although I selfishly enjoy watching these strange scenarios myself, I find myself rolling my eyes every time a contestant proceeds to tell their tragic life story. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate a good plot line but the stories that are frequently told all have a sense of ingenuity to them. I find it to be dramatic and unnecessary for the show, especially once the tears come out. Because some of us take reality TV with a grain of salt, and documentaries have always involved credible, professional storytelling; more people appreciate docu-series. Think about it. It combines the serious atmosphere of an actual documentary with the added drama of a TV show. Many reality shows have been condemned for being scripted, so the emergence of docu-series is reviving the hope for “real” shows.
Perhaps the popularity of reality shows and documentary series is in relation to their perfect combination of “real” and “fake.” Docu-series film real people in real scenarios or events that the public already have some knowledge about. It’s easy to create a successful show for an audience already there. As for reality TV, there is a similar strategy. Filming is done in a way that depicts real people but places these contestants in unreal situations (e.g. intense competition for love, cooking, business, etc.). Should these shows really be placed under the reality genre if there is so much strategizing behind the scenes? Not to me. But will I continue to watch these so-called “reality shows?” Most likely.