TV Reality Vs. TV Fantasy

by Theresa Wiza

Arthur Godfrey & Alan Funt, who were big deals once upon a time

When Alan Funt’s Candid Camera television program made its debut in 1948, Funt unknowingly created the reality TV genre. From that first hilarious peek into the human spirit came shows like America’s Funniest Videos, Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d, and more.

The same year Funt debuted Candid Camera, Arthur Godfrey showcased struggling artists in his Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.

1948 – Two shows. 2012 – How many reality series and talent competitions are on TV today? Does anybody know? I don’t and I don’t want to take the time to count them all. (If YOU would like to count them, please visit Reality TV World.)

Do we really need that many real-life soap operas and talent competitions on television? Are our lives so boring we have to rely on other people to entertain us? Surprisingly, we devote only one and a half hours a day to television according to statistics provided on the blog Yo, Americans, You Aren’t Watching Enough TV (written by TV Writer™ administrator and television writer, Larry Brody).

I find those stats hard to believe. Statisticians must have included babies, both born and in utero. Because with all the media coverage about reality series like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, along with talent competitions like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, I think some people are lying about the fact that they don’t watch much television.

Maybe they watch too much. Our definition of entertainment has dramatically changed over the years. Reality shows have proliferated to a point I refer to as “ridicule us” – yes, audiences and tabloids alike seem to enjoy mocking participants of reality series, and judges derive great pleasure in taunting competitors.

In defense of audiences, tabloids (I can’t believe I’m defending tabloids), and judges, some of the people who appear on televised competitions really haven’t mastered their talents enough to compete. Some people just want more than their fair share of “15 minutes of fame,” something Andy Warhol intuitively predicted in 1968 when he said that in the future everybody would be world famous for 15 minutes. Then again, some of those auditions are hilarious and give us all something to talk about at the water cooler the next day.

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate talent competitions because I love the fact that people who might not otherwise be given an opportunity to showcase their talents have a venue to do so. But I have to be honest with you – I’m not at all fond of reality series, especially when they delve into lives of people I don’t care to know.

Honey Boo Boo Child, for instance. HOW, I repeat HOW did that show happen? I don’t get it. According to Mitch Albom, in his blog, This honey child is a real boo boo, nearly 2 million Americans watch her: “Two million people find this entertainment. Two million! And forget about the train wreck defense. Sorry. People stare at a train wreck and then move on. They don’t set up shop to keep looking every week.”

Train wreck aside, the reason I don’t like these types of reality shows is because “reality” shows are not real. If they were real, nobody would watch them. Nobody can convince me that drama queens act like drama queens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I know some drama queens. Even drama queens (male and female) have down time. These shows may not be scripted but the actors are certainly persuaded to exaggerate (dramatize) their situations. After all, drama makes for good TV.

I do like reality shows, though – my kind of reality shows. Most of the books in my bookcase are nonfiction. As a writer interested in research on diet, exercise, nutrients, vitamins, and health (mental and physical), I watch The DoctorsDr. Oz, and Dr. Phil for tips and information. To satisfy my creative cravings, I tune into The Nate Berkus Show. For real comedy, I rely on EllenThose are my kinds of reality shows.

The kinds of fantasy I prefer are fantasy shows that could be real. From 1993 to 2002, I couldn’t wait to run home to watch X-Files, for instance. X-Files was exciting and entertaining.

In my early years, I sat mesmerized as Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone took me to the Outer Limits and One Step Beyond. I was also intrigued by suspense and mystery in shows like, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Yes, mystery, intrigue, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, and creativity all draw me into a program.

But I’m also fascinated with the mentality of criminals. Two of my favorite shows are NCIS and Criminal Minds. And I’m always ready for a good laugh. So sometimes I reminisce with reruns: The Dick Van Dyke ShowNewhart,Everybody Loves RaymondFriendsFrasierM*A*S*HCheersSeinfeld, and so many other excellent sitcoms that no longer stream live.

But back to fantasy – to suit my eclectic tastes, every once in a while, maybe once or twice a week, I want a show that takes me outside myself, outside my own imagination. I first began watching The Vampire Diaries to feel closer to my son. It was one of his favorite shows. Because he is a U.S. Marine and has been away for most of his adult life (Iraq four times and now living several states away – still a Marine), The Vampire Diaries became something we shared. Ian Somerhalder didn’t hinder my appreciation of the show either. :)

Supernatural was another of my son’s favorite shows and it appealed to my love of all things paranormal. Though lately the show has become somewhat complicated, the writers have an amazing sense of humor, especially when it comes to conversations between brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.

Creative shows like Fringe stretch my imagination and take me into the realm of unexplained phenomena where worlds rip apart to expose other worlds.

Fantasy and psychological insights into character are abundant in Grimm and Once Upon a TimeOnce Upon a Time is probably the most creative program on television these days. The action takes place in Storybrooke, a magical place filled with princes, curses, fairy tales, castles, and more, where every character alternates between two lives in two different time periods. Fairy tale characters who think they’re real – how imaginative! Always entertaining, each week is more surprising than the last.

That’s the kind of drama that sustains my interest – not the fluffy “let’s-watch-foo-foo-who-who-go-to-Rodeo-Drive-to-get-a-pedicure” stuff. I want SUBSTANCE. I want ESCAPE. I want the world around me to dissolve as I become one with the program. My life is dramatic enough – I don’t need to see that kind of drama on TV. When the lights go down and the television turns on, I’d rather be in Storybrooke than Jersey Shore.

This article originally appeared in Theresa’s blog, which you all should be going to. Big thanks to TW for letting us reprint it here.

5 thoughts on “TV Reality Vs. TV Fantasy”

  1. Are you telling me ‘BARNABY JONES’ isn’t real?! ‘DR. KILDAIRE’, ”NIGHT GALLERY’, ‘A MAN CALLED SLOANE’, ‘THE FBI’. Okay, maybe ‘THE FBI’!

  2. Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour had almost a full year’s jump on Godfrey’s show (January ’48 / Dec ’48, respectively), and even beat Candid Camera to the air. The radio histories for all do cloud the discussion, though!

    I absolutely agree that competition series often showcase talents that haven’t fully matured. While it’s fun to see stars fumble through a season of Dancing With The Stars, when you see people angling for a career in something going up and halfassing it, it can be painful.

    I find it interesting that the shows Theresa likes all fall under the talk show umbrella. I never really look at them as reality shows, though at the network level, these shows are overseen by the same people who command specials and reality series of the more traditional stripe, all under the banner of “Alternative Programming” or “Alternative Series and Specials”. Most talk show writers enjoy WGA coverage, another major difference between talk and the other stuff.

  3. StoryTroy, thank you for the comment, clarification, and discussion. Seems some things never change. After over 60 years, we still enjoy catching people off-guard, whether because of their (ahem) talents or because of their H Factor (human). And yet other things change significantly. Imagine Modern Family moving next door to the Leave it to Beaver family.

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