Reality television has become a way of life for TV junkies. The broadcasting phenomenon originated as a result of a need for commercially-driven, cheap and popular TV. The speed at which it is developing and the proliferation of reality formats are fuelled by the fact that audiences are tired of and bored with traditional forms of TV. Post-modern media consumers have become increasingly interactive in their media consumption.R
align=justifyThe pursuit of realismR
align=justifyThe primary aim of various TV programmes – and specifically news and documentary programmes – is to produce material which depicts life exactly as it is. Yet, not only factually-oriented programmes pursue this goal. Producers of dramatic fiction also aim to accomplish realism in their work. This pursuit of realism has, in turn, led to the phenomenon where viewers progressively display an insatiable need for reality programmes.R
align=justifyTelevision audiences are becoming more sophisticated and know that everything that is screened is, in every respect, a reconstruction of reality. This need for reality and the increased sophistication of viewers has created the perfect breeding ground for extending the boundaries of reality TV. Reality TV can thus be considered to be an attempt to make factual TV more acceptable to viewers at large.R
align=justifyThe private becomes publicR
align=justifyHowever, not all are equally excited about this genre. Media commentators compare reality programmes like Big Brother with Ancient Roman gladiators: No actual blood is shed, but we are nonetheless encouraged to cheer their extinction. The private domain has become public territory, but it would appear that just this seem to be the main attraction of programmes like Survivor, Big Brother, Project Fame, Idols and Fear Factor.R
align=justifyExpectations and interpretations of the social world created by watching reality programmes can include, among others:R
align=justifyOrdinary people can become rich and famous
align=justifyThere can only be one winner
align=justifyYou can eliminate who you want to
align=justifyEnhance win-lose mentality
align=justifyDysfunctional behaviour = win = money and fame
align=justifyOthers are concerned about values being portrayed in these programmes. Dominant values emphasised in reality television include:R
align=justifyInstant fame, instant wealth, instant happiness
align=justifySelf-interest triumphs self-reliance
align=justifyTurns adversity into opportunity
align=justifyDespite negative perceptions regarding the genre viewers seem undeterred.
align=justifyThe success of the reality format
align=justifyThe aspirational potential of the reality format makes it hugely successful. Take me for example. I am not a dancer and will never be. The act is contained to some secret dancing in the privacy of my home. But I can still dream – and I do by watching reality dance shows and thinking that could have been me.
align=justifyReality formats further provide opportunities for enhanced audience identification. Chances for celebrity status are also built into the format. Ordinary people can become extraordinary. And those who are not extraordinary are equally as much fun to watch.
align=justifySo you think you can dance
align=justifySouth African audiences have had their fair share of reality TV. Nothing really distinctive though, mostly reruns of international seasons and some attempts at local versions of international formats.
align=justifyThe South African version of the American hit dance reality show So You Think You Can Dance kicked off in August on SABC 1. South African adaptation ensures a boost for the local television industry and makes identification with characters more likely than with the foreign versions. As the show plays out, however, it will be interesting to see if it is distinctive enough from its international counterparts. The question remains, do programme choices like these best serve the public service mandate of the SABC?
align=justifyTapping into the Net
align=justifyReality television teaches the audience how to use the media and interact with it. This trend might even spill over to other mediums, ensuring the active participation that the television viewer craves. But having viewers vote is not enough. Viewing pleasure can be enhanced by tapping into the interactivity characteristic of the Web. The possibilities are endless: Participants and judges create blogs, online discussion boards, polls, online voting, reruns or video clips from previous episodes, teasers, interviews, news feeds and comment sections.
align=justifyIt is disappointing to see that the SABC is yet to take up the Net as a partner to engage and retain the audience for the Public Service Broadcaster.
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