Finally, The Popularity of the Reality TV Genre Is Explained.

I’m turning on a dime today, switching gears and providing the reason why reality television is so popular. You’re welcome. But first, go back in time with me, will you? The road is long and winding.

Billy Joel’s “My Life” came on the radio yesterday. Every time I hear that song I think of the early 80s Tom Hanks/Peter Scolari sitcom “Bosom Buddies”, because a version of “My Life” was used as the theme song:

I adored that show.

The premise is arguably ridiculous: two guys who dress in drag (and take on the names Buffy and Hildegard) in order to live in a women’s-only building, and everyone other than their one female friend is totally fooled.


bosom buddies hanks scolari

Ridiculous or not, it was commonplace at the time the show aired to just sit back and be entertained. A half hour of anything on television didn’t have to be plausible, believable, or educational. Nobody over-analyzed anything, really.

These days? That usually doesn’t fly. In the Information Age we are in the loop more than ever. We ask questions. We wonder “how did they do that?” We laugh and shake our heads when special effects don’t look real. We criticize. We have enormous expectations. I think our ability to just sit back and be entertained was lost sometime in the early 90s but I can’t be sure of the exact date.

Coincidentally, MTV’s “The Real World” premiered in 1992. This show, though not the first reality tv show ever, can really be credited with starting the reality tv trend. Over the years, there have been some amazing reality shows (ahem, “scripted” and unscripted): “The Amazing Race”, “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels”, “Overhaulin'”, “Trading Spaces”, the entire “Real Housewives” franchise, and “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” just to name a few. There have also been some total trainwrecks: “My Super Sweet 16”, “Toddlers and Tiaras”, and “Sister Wives”, just to name a few. (I will admit that I used to regularly watch one of those trainwrecks. Any guesses?)

Something that every reality show has in common? Its target audience is made up of people who just want to sit back and be entertained. Scripted or not, it’s entertainment. I don’t question how it is that Gene Simmons is a very intelligent business man but in the madcap adventures of his family, he often comes across as the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on. I spent this season of “The Bachelor” completely enraged over Ben’s weekly not-made-with-his-brain decision to give Courtney a rose…but I kept watching. I find that the intensity with which “Ice Loves Coco” is charming and fun to watch.

Reality tv–scripted or not–is an escape. It’s fun, even when it’s stupid. In the high-pressure world that we live in these days, stupid fun could arguably be good for one’s health. But that’s another post altogether.


  • Liz

    I am ALL about stupid fun. However, the folks over at Jersey Shore make me want to cut the producers because, you know, I’m from Jersey.

    Disclosure: I never actually have, or ever would, cut a person on purpose. However, we do not need any help in casting a bad light on Jersey…YO!

  • Tara R.

    I’ve watched Overhauling with my menfolk and Say Yes to the Dress with my daughter because it’s fun to imagine being on those shows.

    Some reality shows like Jersey Shore and T&T are just too ridiculous to watch, that and they make me mad.

  • Laila @OnlyLaila

    I was just thinking last night that I watch too much reality tv. 🙁 It’s been so long since I’ve watched a scripted tv show that I’m starting to wonder what’s up. Yes, it’s mindless tv…but then I feel like it’s turning my brain into mush,lol.

  • Jim

    I disagree. I believe the appeal of reality TV is much like the appeal of Nascar or Pro wrestling. People watch it for the crashes. Like the Roman’s, we want to see some blood spilled in the Collesium.

  • Ally Bean

    I like reality TV in very small doses. I’ve seen some episodes of the real housewives franchises and some episodes of the various wedding TV shows, but overall I find them to be tedious. I don’t care at all what happens with these people.

    On the other hand, scripted TV can draw me in and hook me in a heartbeat. I find it to be more entertaining because the characters, no matter how farfetched, have more depth and I care about them. To me, the made up characters are more real than the actual real people. Weird, huh?

  • Momo Fali

    I can’t even count how many reality shows I watch. I’m super addicted to HGTV shows, especially. Ever watched House Hunters International? Yeah. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

  • megryansmom

    Meh,not a fan of those bug eating reality shows, but give me some Sister Wives and Hoarders any day and I’m felling all sorts of normal again 😉