In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, WE tv President Marc Juris argues that reality TV “shouldn’t be left out” of the conversation about our new golden age of television. After all, Juris argues, his network helped introduce the word “bridezilla” into the cultural lexicon, and that should count for something.
His larger argument is that grouping all unscripted programming together conceals the true diversity of the genre. Juris writes:
The term “reality” is often misused as a “one-size-fits-all” label that fails to adequately characterize the wide range of different and distinctive shows identified with the genre. Deadliest Catch and Project Runway are as far apart as the Bering Sea and Seventh Avenue, yet we identify both as “reality TV.” Today, it seems we no longer use the word to describe the genre, as much as we do to indict it, even though a huge percentage of TV shows and viewership fall into this category. To attribute the success and appeal of reality TV to simple economics or to a “dumbing down” of the audience fails to recognize the potential of the format to connect and engage viewers in a powerful, impactful way.
But while at first Juris seems to be arguing that reality shows deserve respect if they’re actually good (a point many people would probably agree with), he later seems to imply that reality shows deserve respect simply because they’re popular. He cites a whole bunch of people who have become household names thanks to reality programming—from Donald Trump to Caitlyn Jenner to Kelly Clarkson to America’s sweetheart Robert Durst. Plus, he adds, the personalities that are emerging from YouTube, Vine, and Periscope are basically reality TV stars too. Because if there’s one way to encourage people to take a genre seriously, it’s by bringing up Vine stars.
Although Juris acknowledges the artistry that goes into shaping unscripted narratives, he still maintains that the best thing about reality TV is that it’s actually real. “The production of reality programming can collapse a timeline, or focus attention on specific moments, but it can’t change who these people are,” he writes. “If they didn’t say it, the words wouldn’t be on the screen.” In other news, it seems Juris hasn’t gotten around to watching UnREAL yet.
To read more thoughts on the legitimacy of reality television from the man whose network created Ex Isle, Kendra On Top, and Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars, check out the full article on The Hollywood Reporter.