Reality TV

August 27, 2010 • Volume 20, Issue 29
Is it harmless entertainment or a cultural threat?
By Maryann Haggerty


Nicole “Snooki” (Getty Images/Jason Merritt)
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and other “Jersey Shore” cast members have amused and outraged millions of MTV viewers with their antics. The show's second season debut drew 5.3 million viewers and was the highest-rated cable broadcast of 2010 among young viewers. (Getty Images/Jason Merritt)

In the blink of an eye, it seems, reality television has become a certifiable global pop-culture phenomenon. Critics generally dismiss it as a crude form of entertainment that appeals to the lowest common denominator, but reality television's high ratings and ability to create pop culture icons (and its low production costs) are undeniable. While “unscripted” reality television shows have replaced many scripted shows, the genre has been tarnished by accusations of racism and stereotyping. Questions have also been raised about reality television's social value — or lack thereof — and its ability to distort young viewers' perception of life. The genre has also been rocked by real-life scandals that mirror the wild antics the shows encourage to boost viewership. While reality TV has repeatedly been called a superficial cultural fad, it continues to grow, leaving many television writers and cultural commentators worried about its impact on mainstream TV entertainment.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Feb. 19, 2021  Hollywood and COVID-19
Apr. 11, 2014  Future of TV
Nov. 09, 2012  Indecency on Television
Aug. 27, 2010  Reality TV
Jun. 20, 2008  Transition to Digital TV
Feb. 16, 2007  Television's Future
Mar. 18, 2005  Celebrity Culture
Oct. 29, 1999  Public Broadcasting
Aug. 15, 1997  Children's Television
Dec. 23, 1994  The Future of Television
Mar. 26, 1993  TV Violence
Sep. 18, 1992  Public Broadcasting
Oct. 04, 1991  Pay-Per-View
Feb. 17, 1989  A High-Tech, High-Stakes HDTV Gamble
Dec. 27, 1985  Cable Television Coming of Age
Sep. 07, 1984  New Era in TV Sports
Sep. 24, 1982  Cable TV's Future
Apr. 24, 1981  Public Broadcasting's Uncertain Future
May 09, 1980  Television in the Eighties
Oct. 25, 1972  Public Broadcasting in Britain and America
Mar. 26, 1971  Video Revolution: Cassettes and Recorders
Sep. 09, 1970  Cable Television: The Coming Medium
May 15, 1968  Television and Politics
Mar. 01, 1967  Financing of Educational TV
Dec. 16, 1964  Community Antenna Television
Oct. 21, 1964  Sports on Television
Feb. 28, 1962  Expansion of Educational Television
Aug. 28, 1957  Television in the Schools
Jan. 18, 1957  Movie-TV Competition
Sep. 06, 1955  Television and the 1956 Campaign
May 18, 1954  Educational Television
Sep. 03, 1953  Changing Fortunes of the Movie Business
Apr. 20, 1953  Televising Congress
May 31, 1951  Television in Education
Jan. 26, 1949  Television Boom
Jul. 12, 1944  Television
Radio and Television