At the start of this week, I talked about the 2000s and how they’re often looked at as the era in which reality TV was born. Yes, it surely is the time in history where we saw a massive amount but reality TV dates back to the early days of television when things were still in black and white. What started out as sort of this niche genre has since become one of the most profitable and addicting, but what shows have been the most influential? It’s time to take a look at the reality TV crushes that helped define the genre as a whole.
A few years before ‘I Love Lucy’ would go on to become one of the most iconic aspects of television, ‘Candid Camera’ was making people laugh with reality. These hidden camera type shows never failed to garner an audience and since then we’ve had shows like ‘What Would You Do?’ and ‘Impractical Jokers’ prove that there is still a place for this type of show on the small screen. ‘Candid Camera’ can also be looked at as the grandparent of YouTube because so much of that site is made up of pranks and whatnot. With that, we can also look at ‘Candid Camera’ as the reason MTV manages to play ‘Ridiculousness’ 24 hours a day.
There was a good chunk of the ‘90s where ‘Cops’ was IT. You watched that and ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and you felt like you could solve any case that came your way despite only being eight years old. Watching cops take down actual criminals in the wildest of ways paved the way for Judge Judy and all the other daytime TV judges, as well as Dog the Bounty Hunter. Oh, don’t forget ‘Cops’ also laid the foundation for a whole ass generation to listen to true crime podcasts.
The Real World
How real ‘The Real World’ actually was is debatable but what’s not is that it not only led to MTV switching up the scenarios and spawning two more shows, ‘Road Rules’ and ‘The Challenge,’ but introduced a whole new concept to the mix; locking strangers in a situation together and seeing how things pan out. In 2000 this format would leave MTV and head over to CBS when two of the biggest names in reality TV, ever, premiered; ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Survivor.’ The latter would play a hand in everything from ‘Naked & Afraid’ to ‘Running Wild With Bear Grylls.’
Long before we were forced to watch Blake Shelton and Adam Levine interact on ‘The Voice,’ we had ‘Star Search. Some of the biggest names in music and beyond appeared on that show from Britney Spears to Martin Lawrence. Of course, from there we got ‘American Idol,’ which had a pretty solid run for several seasons before fans started to turn the channel, but eventually ‘The Voice’ would become a mega-hit. What came from the idea of regular people trying to make it using their talent would grow to include fashion designers on ‘Project Runway’ and ‘Next in Fashion,’ glass artists on ‘Blown Away,’ drag performers on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ and beyond.
The Dating Game
‘The Dating Game’ walked a fine line between game show and reality, but it would lead to a cascade of shows based around trying to find love. From ‘Love Connection’ to the plethora of dating shows on MTV in the ‘90s and early ‘00s like ‘Singled Out’ and ‘NEXT.’ Then you get into those heavy hitters like ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘Love is Blind.’
The Simple Life
People have always had a fascination with celebrities, but before the turn of the millennium, celebrities were usually people who sang, acted, or played a sport. They weren’t just the children of the elite. Then in came Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie and the world was forever changed. Celebrities slowly turned into people who were just, well, known. Paris opened that door and the likes of the Kardashians, Real Housewives, and Vanderpumps ran through it.
The Flavor of Love
We already talked about dating shows but those were for regular folks. ‘The Flavor of Love’ kicked off what I consider the golden age of reality TV, the era in which Vh1 basically let anyone have a show, and be on a show. It was as if their motto was, “The trashier, the better.” It was glorious, and we all know Flavor Flav’s attempt at finding romance led to not only one of the contestants on his show getting a spinoff with ‘I Love New York,’ but his show eventually led to Bret Michaels’ ‘Rock of Love.’ Of course, spinoffs of each continued until…well, just Google “Megan Rock of Love Canceled Why.”
One could say ‘Laguna Beach’ was an offshoot of ‘The Simple Life,’ but what I think these Orange County teens did was introduce reality TV to a way younger crowd. Yes, Paris Hilton was very influential on young millennials at the time, but MTV saw an opportunity to create their own reality wave and they rode ‘Laguna Beach’ to ‘The Hills,’ and the trip didn’t stop there. MTV eventually created a mecca of shows about everything from sweet 16s being 16 and pregnant. Then, of course, MTV really outdid themselves with ‘Jersey Shore.’
‘Iron Chef’ and ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ premiered the same year, but it was Gordon Ramsay’s outbursts that really made people take notice. And yes, Food Network had been around up until that point, but Ramsay showed that you have to do more than just prepare a meal to get audiences to tune in. His personality, to me, is what pushed Food Network to make their hosts pop, and is the reason we have so many glorious cooking-based shows today.
At one point reality TV started to take audiences inside the inner workings of random businesses and the first one I remember being a must-watch was ‘Miami Ink.’ It led to a handful of other tattoo-based shows, most famously, ‘LA Ink.’ However, then we started to get other business-based shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Pawn Stars.’
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