While reality TV has reshaped the landscape of television, it can carry a heavy cost in its wake. For the stars being perpetually shared with the viewing audience, their romantic relationships are a frequent casualty – almost a sacrifice in the race for ratings. Who’d have thought that broadcasting edited snippets of famous living could be so entertaining – and simultaneously so self destructive. With that in mind, are we to feel guilty for watching?
The first thing to know about reality TV (which an eleven year-old would know) is there is very little real involved. Like family portraits on Christmas cards, they’re not a true reflection of the dysfunction within. Second thing to know- if the show doesn’t generate friction and conflict, then they don’t have much to broadcast. So aside from the normal machinations that can drive people apart, these stars may have a small army actively pitting them against one another. And for many relationships, a reality show is often one of the last nails in the coffin.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that pairing up pop stars seems fated to fail. In theory it’s awesome, like Batman and Catwoman. In reality TV, it’s a mindless cocktail called Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica. Each week we were invited into a plush Calabasas mansion for a breezy half hour of nothingness. He went to the gym, they went shopping, she thought chicken lived in the sea. They were cute, harmless and seemed to work. However within a year of the show getting axed, so fell the marriage. According to Lachey he was blind-sided by her sudden request to part ways. “Jessica and I began playing these parts even when we were by ourselves,” he would tell Rolling Stone in 2006, “It became a really blurred line. There was a question about what truly was our reality.”
Originally their MTV show was intended for Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, who backed out in pre-production. This should tell you something about the artistic level of creativity at work. Elvis’ daughter and the King of Pop backed out of the deal – how about we just apply to same construct to different celebrities? Sizzle sells the show, not the particular brand of bacon.
The Kardashians have turned reality television into a cottage industry, so much that SNL predicted their next hit – Kim’s Fairytale Divorce. Her on-show marriage to NBA’er Kris Humhpries lasted just 72 days – ten episodes in TV time. He would go on to accuse her of fraudulently luring him into a wedding for the sake of higher ratings. They are currently each in pre-trial prep, with Humphries asking for $7M despite the prenup. His rather blunt view of the show, as shared with Good Morning America: “The only things I really watch on TV of myself is playing basketball.”
One couple that does seem to survive the circus is Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed – the centerpiece of A&E’s Gene Simmons Family Jewels. The pair have remained happily unmarried for 28+ years, six of them while on television. The show just wrapped, and Tweed was clear when asked if she would do it all again in hindsight. “No… besides all the invasion of privacy, etc. etc., it did bring about a lot of eye-opening things and lots of good came from it. So the good out-weighed the bad. At moments.”
In some cases it’s reasonable to wonder if the shows took priority over the union. Does that mean if given a choice – the show or the marriage – some celebs would run off the viewing audience? Probably. And if so, doesn’t that indicate that we aren’t really witnessing one of the all-time great love affairs? More like watching an accident scene from a passing vehicle.
While the format can work well with the right personalities, we frequently get a lower tier of less interesting stars – which brings a benefit to the producers. Lesser known (and therefor less powerful) celebs can’t demand to call the shots in terms of final product. Viewers don’t seem to mind the downgrade. Think of it as a dinner party you’re invited to at Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s place. Then instead, at the last minute, it winds up being Fergie and Josh Duhamel. You’d be somewhat disappointed, but you’d probably still go.
As to any guilt viewers may shoulder – it’s worth reminding that they were invited to the party. The viewership didn’t develop the series, concoct the hijinks or profit from the misery. That ownership lies solely with the management.
Will King is a television and media critic who splits his time as a stand up comic. He collects conspiracy theories and claims to have invented Teflon. In his spare time he follows presidential politics and all traffic signs. He lives in Charlotte, NC.
Selma: Reality TV is acting. Yup, I said it… A.C.T.I.N.G! Whether they’re dancing, surviving, keeping up with struggles of life, etc… unfortunately, we can’t stop watching. I recommend this DiscoveryGame to play with your partner to give you insight on your opinions on reality shows.
Giulia: It’s through others we can experience extremes without the messiness or responsibility of the resulting fall out. That’s part of the joy of watching reality TV! I recommend this TokiiLab Read to help us explore why we are so compelled to watch social train wrecks!