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Why do so many reality shows feature competition?

Game Shows And Reality Shows

Bob Boden (Vice President of Production, Fox Reality Channel) gives expert video advice on: Why do so many reality shows feature competition?; What reality shows draw closely on game shows of the past?; What classic game show has influenced modern reality shows? and more...

Why do so many reality shows feature competition?

Popular and successful reality shows of the current era have a game show structure to them. Shows like Survivor, Amazing Race, Big Brother, even American Idol, have a very strong competitive through line to the show. It is really a game show mixed with storytelling in a reality form. And, I think that the game part of it is a lot of it's appeal, because people do get involved. Who is going to win, what it takes for them to win, how they play the game - they may envision themselves in a reality game. And, the younger generation of TV viewers gets as involved, or more involved in what it takes to be on a reality show than on a game show.

What reality shows draw closely on game shows of the past?

You can trace the roots of many of today's reality and game shows to early game shows in the first days of television. For instance, you can trace the genesis of American Idol going back to the original Amateur Hour with Ted Mack, which came on in the 40's, and various other talent shows that have come and gone since. What American Idol does is it packages the game in a reality setting with the conventions of reality, the fly on the wall interviews, confessionals, the at-home pieces, the background stories of the contestants, and the celebrity judges. All of that brings it out from being just a plain old singing competition.

What classic game show has influenced modern reality shows?

Queen For A Day was really one of the first reality type games that had a soap opera element to it, and it involved real people, typically women, who would come on and tell sob stories in order to be awarded prizes by an audience who was judging pretty much who was the most pathetic person. And in today's world you've got different types of shows that cover the same material. You've got talk shows where people come on and parade their dysfunctionality across the stage for all America to see. You've got reality shows where the confessionals on the show are much more entertaining than the competition or the documentary aspect of the show because these people are so incredibly screwed up that they are entertaining by virtue of just being themselves. And then you've got a variety of prank shows and hidden camera shows which show people at their sort of lowest, most vulnerable point. But many of these things started with Queen For A Day where people were willing to bare their souls and be open and honest and beg on TV.

How have reality shows influenced game shows?

The current reality era has also had an influence back onto game shows. One example I can think of is The Weakest Link, which was a very standard question and answer game, but after a player was eliminated, they would go into a confessional and talk about their experience, their game play and why they did what they did, or why they regretted doing what they did. It really brought out the reality aspect to the game.