Friday, August 12, 2011

Reality TV Today: We Love Our Unknowns!

Remember when VH1 featured their "Celebreality" TV block, where reality shows featured celebrities? While I loved The Surreal Life, I think the focus of many reality shows is moving towards people we don't already know...and we're now loving our straight-up reality stars.

Please keep in mind, I'm not saying that celebrities are no longer welcome on shows like Dancing With The Stars and such, but when it comes to straight reality television, we're loving our straight-to-fame reality stars. Why would I say that? Well, take Jersey Shore as an example. Snooki, The Situation and the others shot to fame on Jersey Shore, and four seasons in, we're still addicted. Why? Because MTV took a bunch of random, unremarkable people and gave them a venue to become household names. We loved watching the cast act completely outrageous in a cheap looking house (with a duck phone!) in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. What really makes the castmates remarkable? They're willing to put themselves out there in a way many people won't. But when it comes down to it, Snooki was a dental assistant before she hit the Jersey Shore. She wasn't a theater major seeking the spotlight - she was a regular girl who was willing to let people know she drinks a lot and likes to 'smush' on national television.

Even shows like Dancing With the Stars have moved towards reality stars and other non-actors. Season one of Dancing With the Stars featured one reality star - The Bachelorette's Trista Sutter. But as time has passed, the show has incorporated even more reality stars: Kate Gosselin, Kendra Wilkinson and Jake Pavelka. On season eleven, the show even featured three reality stars (Mike Sorrentino, Audrina Patridge and Bristol Palin) out of a total of twelve contestants. Plus, contestants Brandy and David Hasselhoff, who are famous for other reasons, had also previously appeared on reality television shows.

I will also cite the success of Bachelor Pad. Season two brought in 6.9 million viewers for the season two premiere, and this show focuses explicitly on reality show stars that we know and love.

Shows like The Glee Project and Hell's Kitchen also command high ratings, and those shows feature people we don't even know at all. Whereas Dancing With the Stars and Bachelor Pad give us reality stars that we're already familiar with, the two shows above feature complete unknowns. Through the shows, we learn about these people that are just like us (although maybe more talented) and truly feel like we know and are building relationships with them.

Recently, on VH1, we've seen a decrease in celebrity-based shows (Rock of Love, Flavor of Love, The Surreal Life) and an increase in shows about people we don't know: Mob Wives, Tool Academy and even shows about people who appeared on reality shows, like Daisy of Love and Real Chance at Love.

Even former stars that are no longer relevant are trying to revive their careers as reality stars. Danny Bonaduce did it and so did Christopher Knight. People who are known for random things like The Kardashian family even built an empire through reality television. The thing about them is that they are primarily now known as reality stars. To today's youth, they aren't celebrities who went on a reality show for a season - they're people who once had a career and are now known pretty much solely as almost unknowns who rose to fame through reality television.

I'm not saying that reality shows about celebrities don't have a place in the spotlight, but everyday, normal people are now skyrocketing to fame just by appearing on a season of reality TV. I credit this in part to the fact that viewers find the people on these shows relateable. There's the appeal of the "if it happened to them, it could happen to me" concept and the fact that we're seeing just how interesting 'normal' people can be.

It's now an actual career option to be a reality star. Between the show that makes you famous, the media appearances, the spin-offs and the news stories you sell, it's possible to make enough cash to last a lifetime, if you play your cards right. If Snooki saved her pennies, she'd never have to work again. Word has it that after Jersey Shore ends, she's getting a spin-off show. Plus, she makes money just for showing her face at clubs and things. She's even taken her fame to different media forms to bring in more cash, like the book she 'wrote,' "A Shore Thing". J-Woww's less famous than Snooki, and she's also raking in money through appearances and her book, The Rules According to JWOWW. Even Mindy Hall from Rock of Love put out a calendar featuring her photos, and we barely even remember who she is!

I'm sure that the media makers have a lot to do with the trend towards unknown people on reality television. First of all, they command less money. Amber Portwood from Teen Mom takes in $140,000 a season for her appearances, whereas Ashton Kutcher will rake in almost $7 million dollars for a season of Two and a Half Men. Secondly, regular people are willing to do a lot more to gain fame than those who are already famous and want to maintain a positive public image. Thirdly, reality shows allow networks to recycle the same concept season after season (like on America's Next Top Model) and still rake in tons of viewers and advertising revenue. Reality television is a major win for networks, advertisers, and viewers, all of which benefit from this modern form of media.

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