It’s impossible to flip through TV channels without catching a glimpse of a reality show.
With the creation of “Candid Camera” in the 1940s, reality television is nothing new. However, the genre has expanded in recent years to cover a wide variety of subjects. Whether it’s “The Real Housewives,” “The Bachelor,” “Hoarders” or “Kitchen Nightmares,” it’s as though there is a show for every quirky interest in the world. Aside from not having much reality at all, one thing that almost all reality shows have in common is drama, backstabbing, and, possibly, even violence among cast members. Hair-pulling, name-calling, uppercuts and table-flipping — nothing is spared in these on-air altercations.
With all of the fighting that goes on, these shows communicate to their viewers the idea that all it takes to get famous is to throw a few punches. It also tells TV producers that an audience will be satisfied with the show so long as they can incorporate some amount of needless violence. This takes away from the amount of innovative TV programming being aired, such as shows that rely on creative storytelling or shows that actually aim to educate the audience.
In the season one finale of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” a series about the lives of wealthy housewives, Teresa Giudice famously flipped a dinner table when enraged by a fellow cast member. Following the table-flipping, Giudice went on a profanity-filled tirade, letting all her cast mates know exactly how she felt about them. In the fourth episode of “Married to Medicine,” a show focusing on women who are married to doctors, castmates Mariah Huq and Toya Bush-Harris confront each other at a black-tie event. The two brawled while wearing their ball gowns and sky-high heels. The show “Bad Girls Club” is centered on the feuds among its female housemates, so violence is staple material for each episode.
So why do producers feel the need to incorporate these confrontations into their shows? One explanation is that people are drawn to violence, so the reality shows feed the audience’s cravings in exchange for higher ratings. In a 2008 research study published in the psychology journal Psychopharmacology, researchers found that humans watch and/or take part in aggressive activities because they feel a “rewarding sensation” from it. The study was used as an explanation for why people enjoy watching harshly aggressive sports and violent movies.
The same conclusion can be said for violent reality shows. The more punches that are thrown, the more people will tune in. People want to experience the thrill and suspense of not knowing who will swing first, who will win the fight, and how the fight leads to even more drama. Nearly 3.5 million people watched the season one finale of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” “Bad Girls Club” was the first show on the Oxygen network to capture more than 1 million viewers per episode. The finale of “Bad Girls Club: ATL” boasted a record-breaking total of 2 million viewers for Oxygen, according to Nielsen ratings. The fourth episode of “Married to Medicine” hooked 2.6 million viewers.
This is negative because as more people watch the fighting that goes on, the more that TV shows will resort to showing this type of entertainment, pushing the possibly more creative shows off the air. Moreover, some who watch these shows may start to feel that it’s OK to behave that way when they find themselves in similar situations.
Whatever the reasons, the producers of reality TV shows continue to use their programs’ competitive nature and violence as a means to drive plot lines and snatch its viewers’ attention. It’s a rather uninventive form of entertainment, feeding solely on the public’s appetite for drama and not much else. For some, watching reality TV is like driving past a car accident: no matter how bad it may be, it’s hard to look away. The problem is that as reality TV shows remain prevalent, they make it more difficult for newer and more creative types of television to gain public recognition, thus creating the image that all TV consists of is cat fights and castmate confrontations.