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Top 10 Over-Exploited Reality Show Genres

by Ryan Thomas
fact checked by Alex Hanton

A long time ago, reality t.v. might have truly been considered a post-modern art form. The idea of observing something in its natural state, unaffected by linear plot or pre-packaged conventions, but such never took. Like communism, theory fails to actualize itself in the hands of those with self-serving motives. If the Real World was the first of its kind, the staged conflict and startling revelations seemed necessary to keep ratings, the real precedent (art is never a priority in the entertainment business), and every reality show thereafter has required a hook and sort of structure, more than observing a creature in its natural habitat without feelings of self-consciousness. Only problem is, knowing you’re going to be on television is bound to make you feel self-conscious, and thus undo the purity of ignorance. While the reality show could be true art in the RIGHT hands, in the wrong hands, it’s just the cheapest way to make wild profits (like selling empty boxes). The result: a lack of substance, and a ton of it. Here are the most heavily pimped out boxes of nothing, time and again tapped into as invisible gold mines, thanks to the self-revealingly high numbers of viewers with low standards and gluttonous habits (quantity is way better than quality anyway).




Dr. Drew thrives on addictive personalities. The funniest diagnosis he ever shelled out was at Arnold Schwarzenegger, indirectly, in reference to his illegitimate affair with his former housekeeper, calling it a “love addiction” (to which a skeptical, smirking Anderson Cooper wondered what the difference was to actual love). Such an abstraction as love is a hard thing to be so sure of, at least from a clinical perspective, but what is a sure thing is the addictive properties of actual chemical substances like crack, meth, heroine, alcohol, etc. For that, shows like Celebrity Rehab (with the bespectacled aforementioned) and Intervention exist. Let Gary Busey be living proof that you can go from recovering drug addict (on Celebrity Rehab) to Donald Trump employee-in-training (on Celebrity Apprentice) in no time at all, at least within the confines of reality television (which thrives on irrational outbursts).


Feigning Survival


Let The Real Gilligan’s Island, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, and 22 seasons and counting of Survivor be an indicator that there is a large enough sector of people who find entertainment in the prospect of being stranded on an island, and that there is definite market for a genre catering to such. How twisted is it that a phony competition in which competing teams live as primitives in order to win a million dollars and/or intermittent meals at an onsite Outback Steakhouse; meanwhile, actual people in third-world countries are forced into such circumstances as a matter of fact. Only in America. Next thing you know, there will be a reality show devoted to more immediate forms of human suffering: waiting in line at the DMV (actually, it does exist and is called Parking Wars).


Spoiled Debutantes

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Notorious examples include Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Living Lohan, The Girls Next Door, Brooke Knows Best and the Simple Life, where in which the worst offenders of art and decency prove you can sell crap if it’s wrapped in something shiny. E! is mostly to blame for the success of otherwise talentless heiresses and pretty nobodies. That and “unauthorized” sex tape distribution. It really seems like a rule of thumb to quick fame and fortune. Is it really any coincidence that Kat Dennings managed to find her way to a blockbuster like Thor with nude photos of herself circulating around the internet?


Little People


TLC must stand for The Little Channel, judging from their heavy emphasis on shows featuring short-statured individuals with a topical quirk (a hook more like): Little Chocolatiers (why not The Food Network?), Little Couple, Our Little Life and Little People, Big World. But TLC isn’t alone; Animal Planet is even getting in on the “racket” with the show Pit Boss, about a dog-owner who also happens to succumb to the height-affecting throes of dwarfism. The question is, at what point does entertainment become exhibition? Is this a good thing for the dwarf community, a niche demographic and population sector that’s veritably under-represented in the entertainment industry, or very harmful? The reality format disseminates the actuality of their existence to a level of relative normalcy and ostensibly aims to obliterate intolerance, but is it undercut by the fact that they are also put on a pedestal, called entertainment without trying to be? Who is this show aimed at and at whose expense? At any rate, their presence is known, even more abundantly than is the case in actual life, and that is a good thing in and of itself.



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Suddenly decorative cakes have become valid entertainment, not that you can go to your local grocery store and spend the day oggling the various floral frosting patterns. The Food Network, TLC and WE seem to account for way too much televisual dedication to baked goods called artwork, between Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, Wedding Cake Wars and Amazing Wedding Cakes. It’s almost surprising how amusing any such shows can be, watching five competing teams race to construct the ultimate edible shrine to Sesame Street seeing a frosted, food-colored rendition of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s Bridge getting built from scratch for a wide-eyed fanatic, but it takes a hard-core cake-enthusiastic, or drooling menopause-sufferer, to tune in ritualistically, to watch cake as entertainment.


Singers and Dancers


Because the filth factory doesn’t churn out enough unwarranted record deals, American Idol exists for this very purpose. Apparently songwriting musicians aren’t as in so high demand as vibrato-capable beauties who require them to put their names on albums and marquees (after “American Idol Presents” of course). It’s these menial talents that come a dime a dozen that win every stilted competition time and again (who always wins America’s Got Talent? A technically-adequate singer with a smooth complexion…or Susan Boyle). Not that other shows don’t specialize in vocal talent, singers are always selected for being the most topical, every dance crew, chainsaw juggler and impressionist getting the shaft. With American Idol’s viewership and success transcending genre barriers, other networks have wised up to the merits of sensational opportunism. Now we have The Voice, The X Factor and Going Platinum finding singers who stand out in the crowd, but not in a crowd of singers. Talent searches have actually gone hand-in-hand with television for much longer than Idol (think Star Search and Opportunity Knocks), and singing is just one in a list of other talents that are turned into any one of the competition shows that currently flood network television; there’s dancing (So You Think You Can Dance? and Dancing with the Stars), comedy (Last Comic Standing), modeling (which is what you would call any American Idol finalist, sans the ability to sing/possess any true talent), and miscellaneous other (America/Britain’s Got Talent). But in the end, song and dance always takes the cake. Even if your talent happens to be making and/or juggling cakes (then you might consider auditioning for the Food Network…or TLC if you’re a little person).


Real (Loud and Obnoxious) Wives

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Because this country’s morals and standards are bankrupt, shows like Real Housewives of Orange County/New York City/New Jersey/Miami/Atlanta, and Mob Wives exist. Belligerent drunkenness, unyielding cattiness, ignorant shout-offs and adultery are acceptable as long as its caught on tape, so think the regular tuners-in who find such despicable behavior amusing. There’s loving to hate something, and continuing to watch anyway, but some human displays are just so abominable that you should hate to watch and never do so, keeping these low-impulse-feeders off the air.


Looking for “Love.”

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Countless shows, mostly on VH1, take up the cause of finding “true love” for celebrities, fading musicians and reality show veterans. More often than not, though, these shows are a quest for attention, career resuscitation, disguised as a fantastical notion termed “true love”. Of course, true love can only be found after “interviewing” (i.e. sleeping with) a handful of desirable candidates, whereupon ever-rolling t.v. cameras and staged dates provide the proper lubricant for that chemical spark (that and barrels of booze). It’s always a shock when the winner (the hottest and dumbest of the rest of the dumb hotties) and object of true love only lasts til about a few months before the show’s second season (Rock of Love meet Rock of Love 2). Bret Michaels sang it himself, “Every rose has a thorn,” and every broad he serenades inevitably finds the door. After all, they just want to say they’ve been with a famous rock star. Because that gets you places…like Charm School, or For the Love of Money.


Pregnant Teens


No longer do you have to venture to any given public high school to find someone too young for childbirth, doing just that; MTV makes teenage child-rearing look so cool, what with the popularity of shows like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant carrying on for more trimesters than the subjects involved (both have found third seasons). If this isn’t just a freakshow capitalizing on the shock and awe of hardcore truth T.V., is MTV really the best boilerplate for a PSA-like lesson against such prevalent practices? It almost seems like presenting these cases as matter-of-factly as possible could, in the wrong hands, make it seem okay to abort (pardon the word) any shot at a future consisting of more than waitressing and living with mom/the guy at fault. A bad idea is casting attractive examples as expectant mothers, which only glamorizes the predicament, for that’s the only thing that seems to drive a message home for the typical MTV viewer: I must emulate this attractive person (see the Hills, Jersey Shore, any rap video). This kind of regular programming almost makes you long for the days of the Real World and Road Rules. Almost.


The Young and the Wasted

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There is nothing more contagious then a drunk young person. College students use alcohol as a social crutch and only come to find out that it was really alcoholism and ineptitude all along by the time they turn thirty (or if they don’t learn, they maintain bland personalities by day and barfly-habits by night, straight into a roadside grave). Oblivion is key to never having to ultimately relinquish the lifestyle. Surrounding your world, Facebook photo albums and refrigerator with the artifacts of a very distinct alcohol culture, it just seems like a hobby of sorts (like going to a basketball game to get drunk, sports-related clamor serving only as background noise). It’s all about finding reinforcement everywhere you go, or else creating it out of thin air. Thankfully shows like Jersey Shore exist to pat poor choices on the back and stylize the party-and-club-hopping lifestyle. Being drunk and stupid become just a lifestyle choice amongst any other…like going to grad school, or taking an interest in Greek literature.

fact checked by Alex Hanton