Reality TV, Genre Theory, and Shaping the Real


  • Rebecca Burditt Hobart and William Smith Colleges


reality TV, genre theory, documentary


The following series of lesson plans highlight reality TV’s reliance upon the structures and conventions of popular narrative entertainment. Although much reality TV conveys information through documentary modes (interviews, handheld camerawork, on-location shooting), such programs also make ”reality” conform to familiar narrative and genre codes. This unit emphasizes how and why reality TV reproduces Hollywood tropes by introducing reality TV’s industrial, production, and post-production techniques. It encourage students to recognize that the pleasure contemporary audiences glean from reality TV comes, in part, from the application of genre film’s storytelling techniques and dominant ideologies to scenarios involving unscripted non-actors. What follows therefore probes one of reality TV’s central paradoxes: that the it is valued for its authenticity, and yet the “realness” that it offers is only seductive because it gives us the comforts, joys, and closure that real life cannot. The unit includes screenings of The Bachelorette, What Would You Do and The Real World, and readings by both reality TV and film genre scholars. The unit culminates in a group project and presentation in which students are assigned a reality TV episode and required to reconceptualize it as a genre film.