In recent years there has been an increase in popularity of reality TV shows. From MTV's Real World to CBS's Survivor these shows are popping up on every network and in every time slot. Most of the shows are a combination game show drama. The proliferation of these shows is somewhat of a mystery. Why are reality shows so popular lately? The main explanation of these shows is quite simple: they are extremely cheap to produce so they are very attractive to the production companies, but the explanation as to their popularity among viewers is more complex. Are they forms of escapism, a voyeuristic pleasure shared by the entire country, or do they just make viewers feel better about themselves because the participants seem so stupid?
The popularity of reality show among the networks can be easily explained. The cost to produce one episode is significantly less than that of the traditional scripted show.
Actors, writers, and set designers don't have to be paid. The winner in Survivor gets paid one million dollars. That cost the producers the same as each actor in Friends gets paid for each episode. So they got 13 episodes of Survivor for less than the cost of one episode of Friends. So the appeal for those making the money is obvious, but what makes the reality shows so popular among viewers?
One suggestion is that reality shows offer viewers an escape from actual reality. After a viewer watches the horrors of the nightly news the reality show provides an immediate escape. While this explanation of popularity is intriguing it doesn't really completely explain the attraction. Why is reality TV better escapism than the tradition sit-com or an old fashioned game show? There must be something more involved with these shows.
The fact that these...