Tuned In

Vacation Robo-Post: The State of Your Reality

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We had one of the more productive Tuned In thread hijacks last week when commenter Rahul asked–in a post about VH1’s John from WKRP in Cincinnati mashup–“In your opinion, do you think Reality TV has revitalized television?”

I do think so, even though the last year or so has been fairly slack for new reality TV, and in 2003, back at the height of the Joe Millionaire craze, I wrote that in a long piece, Why Reality TV Is Good for Us. At the time, network dramas and sitcoms (as opposed to cable) were mostly focused on being as safe and easy to watch as possible. This was the height of CSI’s popularity, and the conventional wisdom was that the only way to make a big drama hit was to make each episode self-contained, because viewers didn’t have the patience (or the brains) to follow a plot week to week in large numbers. Reality TV showed that viewers not only had they patience for serial plots, they had a hunger for them; and they also wanted serial shows that were not about murders but about relationships among people (people competing for roses or million-dollar prizes or modeling contracts, but still). A year later, the networks started to get the message and started making serial hits like Desperate Housewives and Lost–whose premise, after all, probably never would have flown had Survivor not been a hit.

But that’s me. Do you think there’s anything redeeming, in the big picture, about reality TV? And what do you like to watch?