For those who were born in the 90s or beyond, it may be hard to imagine a world in which reality television doesn’t rule. Although there are now literally hundreds, if not thousands of reality shows being aired all over the globe, it is important to note that this is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, prior to 1992, the concept of reality television was virtually unheard of. This means, rather than our daily conversations being consumed with the uninhibited antics of some new (or returning) Hollywood hopeful, the world’s list of favorite television shows consisted almost exclusively of shows that were 100% scripted.
Overall, reality television is arguably anything but. In an age in which we each have our own version of reality TV on social media, it seems that the Truman Show-esque reality of the “average Joe” being forced into smiling for the cameras, has become an uncomfortable reality. No matter if you believe these shows are scripted or not, there is no denying that most people are unable to live out “reality” while in front of cameras. Nevertheless, a collection of shows filled with real moments, the main attraction to reality television shows is not the fact that people believe they are real. Rather, most are intrigued by the possibility of witnessing a real moment in a world where being fake rules above all else.
The following is a closer look at 10 of the most influential reality shows that helped change television forever.
10. The Real World
The underrated pioneer of reality TV, MTV’s The Real World originally aired in 1992. Focusing on finding out what happens when you get a group of vastly different strangers together, make them work and live together, and restrict their access to the outside world, this show was like a breath of fresh air in a world that had formerly clung to rehashing the same old plots and storylines in the scripted series. Still around to this very day, the show continues to take on controversial issues such as racism, sexism, gender issues, and much more. Now considered a mere drop in an ocean of reality series, there would likely be no reality TV without the mother of all reality shows.
9. Road Rules
A spinoff show created to hopefully expand their reality TV audience, Road Rules was one of the first extreme reality shows of its kind. A show in which a group of strangers lived together for an extended period of time and took on so-called “challenges” for food and pay each episode, Road Rules simply took the model for The Real World and expanded it to include an RV and risky challenges. The framework for the Fear Factor, and Jack-Ass age, Road Rules marked the beginning of more extreme reality shows and game shows alike.
8. Surreal Life
Once the millennium hit, the reality TV thing began to pick up steam. Most notably, VH1 decided to throw its hat in the ring with the creation of The Surreal Life. The first show of its kind, VH1 essentially took the Real World framework and added in the magic of slightly washed up celebrities. Although it wasn’t the biggest hit, it did introduce the notion of using less prominent celebrities in reality shows. This was a move that marked the beginning of the reality TV mania; at least, as far as celebrities are concerned.
7. Strange Love
A step in a new direction, after an unlikely romance began to blossom between Brigitte Nielson and rapper Flavor Flav on the third season of VH1’s Surreal Life, Strange Love originally aired in January 2005. A show that followed the delightful train wreck of a relationship that unfolded between the actress and the Public Enemy hype man, this show made room for a whole new type of programming entirely.
6. Flavor of Love
Introduced by VH1 just a year later, Flavor of Love, borrowed elements from the many reality TV shows before and added to it the dating show element. Essentially The Bachelor dipped in various shades of caramel and chocolate, Flavor of Love put a lovely urban twist on the dating show model that helped change the way these shows were made indefinitely. The show itself, brought forth Flavor Flav’s best and worst moments of his entertainment career.
5. I Love New York
Vh1 did not stop there. To take their groundbreaking to the next level, VH1 cherry picked a new HBIC and created the first dating show starring a black woman. Wildly successful, just as the three seasons of Flavor of Love had been, I Love New York showed the world that women are more than capable of drawing in millions of viewers on their own dating excursions. Moreover, also predating The Bachelorette, it seems that Miss New York may have had an influence on The Bachelor franchise as well.
4. The White Rapper Show
A lesson in hip-hop hilariousness, The White Rapper Show was a unique reality show competition in which white rappers competed to win a $100,000 grand prize as well as the respect of one of the white rapping pioneers, MC Search. Unique in many ways, one of the best things about The White Rapper Show is that it pointed out the lack of white rappers in the game while also acknowledging that hip-hop was embedded in African American culture. Hilarious and thought-provoking, if nothing else, this show encouraged us to think outside of the box in terms of how we like our reality competitions served.
3. The Apprentice
Next, a show that first brought Donald Trump into our living rooms every week (whether you like it or not), The Apprentice is a show in which strategy essentially trumps all. A show that encouraged people to put on their best business face and backstab their way to the top, one of the most notorious elements of this show is the boardroom meeting in which contestants must fight for their places. In addition to that, we also learned that the world enjoys a quick dirty send off with the breakthrough catch phrase being Trump’s own, “You’re fired!”
2. Jersey Shore
Next, a new-age spin on an old classic, MTV’s Jersey Shore took a page from their old faithful, The Real World, with a twist. This time focusing only on Italian-Americans, Jersey Shore seems to have taken a page from VH1 and decided to switch up their demographic. Oddly, the show was wildly unpopular among Italians, but everyone else loved it. A group of partiers that worked together, hooked up with each other (and strangers), and told a slew of one-line jokes, Jersey Shore brought on a newer version of reality TV in which the participants were more like family than strangers, and still managed to take the world along for the ride.
1. Love and Hip Hop
The reality show heard around the world, the Love and Hip Hop franchise actually began as a few cameras following around a reluctant and irate Jim Jones. Once it became clear it had potential, other characters were added in to make it more of a hip-hop soap opera (hip-hopera?) than a reality show. One of the most dramatic reality series on TV, we have seen a slew of love triangles, marriages, divorces, babies, and more. Now on its seventh season, although there has certainly been an array of character changes and transitions, the franchise continues to expand to new cities, so far in New York, Atlanta, Hollywood, and is rumored to be venturing into cities such as New Orleans, Miami, and Houston. A game changer for sure, reality television has undoubtedly become more explosive overall since this firecracker of a series came onto the scene.