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BY Sunilkumar Ravi: Pin drop silence. Everyone, including the judges was silent. A beautiful lady in her early twenties came to the dais, holding a piece of paper. She was going to declare something very important. The audience and the TV viewers held their breath. Words flow from her mouth and another celebrity is born…
What is reality television? It is the genre of television programming that presents or projects unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, documents actual events and usually features ordinary people instead of professional actors.
Reality television frequently portrays a modified and highly influenced form of reality to attract viewers and to generate advertising profits. Participants are often placed in exotic locations or abnormal situations and sometimes are coached to act according to story editors or segment producers.
Precedents for television that portrayed people in unscripted situations began in the 1940s. Then we had candid camera broadcasting unsuspecting ordinary people reacting to pranks played on them. It was called the grand daddy of the ‘reality TV‘ genre.
In 1950, wacky competition stunts and practical jokes used to be broadcast. The first reality show in the modern sense started in the early seventies. In late 70s, many programs like “The dating game”, “The newlywed game” etc were broadcast. These programs featured participants who were eager to sacrifice some of their privacy and dignity in a televised competition.
In early 2000, we saw an explosion in global popularity of reality television in the west and it followed to the east and other parts of the world.
In the east, even regional channels started featuring reality shows like SaReGaMaPa, Kaun Banega Crorepathi etc, which were takeoffs from the western originals. As briefed earlier, all the participants were non-professional and were coached to perform accordingly. Some of the shows place unnecessary stress on the lives of the participants akin to “mice in an experiment.” Recently, channel viewers in India witnessed even ‘swayamvar’ on reality TV, where a famous actress chose her husband-to-be through a show. Frankly, the speaker could not understand the purpose of the event. Was it for real or just a farce?
But overall, reality TV shows do have their advantages and disadvantages – for the winners. They get immense popularity, lots of money, opportunity and fans, exposure - The opportunity to perform in front of a TV audience, industry and celebrity judges and be seen by millions of people. But even to the winners, it may turn out to be difficult to retain the popularity, their income in future and their standard of living if there is no continued opportunity in future.
Only a small percentage of the contestants are successful, majority of contestants fade swiftly back into obscurity. They don’t win anything; they take home only sad memories. Theirs is the classic case of ‘slip between the cup and lip’. The student participants may have lost several classes in their schools/colleges. Their parents, for assisting them, would have taken leave from their offices. They would have spent a fortune for the televised programme, which may not have been affordable for them.
It is advisable that before the start of the programme, the participants and their kin should be given proper awareness about the consequences of whatever the end is, for the participant. The participants and their kin should accept the programme in a light manner; one’s life and career should be clearly in focus. Television can be a great medium for singers and entertainers; however, they should be avoided by beginners and the faint-hearted. The competition is tough, criticism blunt and as with any audition process or talent show - there are no guarantees that you will get through to the next round. Participants must be psychologically ready to accept the results, whatever that may be. And also he or she must remember, world does not end at the door step of TV channels.
This is the side of what happens inside the television picture tube. We also need to consider the other side of the picture tube - the viewers of the TV show. What is the effect of the show on them? It is seen that many families watch such programs together. The effects on the children should be considered. Foremost among the concerns are the following: projection of values and language used; exposure to sex and violence; wrong impressions given regarding love and relationships; behaving “over the top” and public display of areas in life that should remain private.
Parents who watch these shows with their children could use the wrong things they see on television as teachable moments. Offensive scenes are examples of what they need to avoid in life. Parents can ask their kids how they feel about a particular scene so that parents can gauge if they have implanted the right values. Parents could cite the different ways and means by which the participants of such shows cope with the stressful situations.
While reality TV continues to thrive, people need to take greater responsibility of their lives. As in books, the best programs are those that reveal our true selves, and in the process make us better human beings.
After all, these shows will not rate or prosper if there is no audience to watch it. The remote is in your hands. Use it wisely.