Why Reality TV isn't the same anymore: Has it become too scripted?

One of our writers discusses why Reality TV has lost its spark over recent decades

Hannah Mercer
4th February 2024
Nothing is better than sitting down at the end of the day and rotting in front of the television to your favourite Reality TV show. What more could you want than to witness Kim Kardashian lose her diamond earring in the ocean, or a fiery couple's row on Love Island? But recently, moments like these don’t happen organically.

Most of us will agree that many moments in reality television aren’t 100% spontaneous, but it feels like recently scripted moments overpower natural ones.

Some of my favourite reality TV moments come from Dance Moms. The drama that unfolded between the ‘moms’ and Abby Lee Miller in early seasons gave viewers an insight into life at the dance studio. But, it has been revealed that as the season went on, and the show gained popularity, producers began to provoke dramatic moments. Comparing later seasons with early ones, arguments between the moms are clearly curated with exaggerated facial expressions and extreme comments. This makes the show no longer a reality show, but a dramatization.

Arguments between the moms are clearly curated with exaggerated facial expressions and extreme comments. This makes the show no longer a reality show, but a dramatization...

Even if it can’t be proved reality TV is scripted, in recent years it feels scripted. X Factor definitely falls victim to this. Earlier series were filled with hilarious moments between contestants and the judges. Viewers will remember “Ablisa’s” shocking on-stage fight, and it’s hard to forget the time Louis Walsh threw water at contestant Debbie Stevens in series 3. These moments were hilarious and shocking, but why? Because they felt real. Whilst I personally have watched the show’s more recent series, I fail to remember the bad auditions. Bad auditions are now more outrageous, making it seem like contestants have been told to perform them for ‘the shock factor’.

New series of Reality TV shows, like Married at First Sight or Love Island, share the same scripted feeling. Whilst, yes, they are enjoyable, the constant back-stabbing and arguing gets repetitive. It leads us to wonder if the contestants really wanted to find love, or if they just joined the show for fame.

It leads us to wonder if the contestants really wanted to find love, or if they just joined the show for fame.

The more realistic the drama is, the more surprising and amusing, and it is that which makes reality shows enjoyable. X Factor has since been axed due to a decrease in viewers, I’m a Celeb’s ratings have plummeted, and nobody seems to care to watch Geordie Shore like they did before. Recent seasons of our favourite shows feel unbelievable, driving viewers away. Will producers realise this, or is it the end of ‘reality’ as we know it?

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