George Orwell may have predicted a state dominated by constant scrutiny, but what '1984' didn't predict was that one day we'd voluntarily throw ourselves at the camera, 24/7, for the world to watch. The ritualistic attachment to 'reality' television is a special relationship we've likely all experienced. Of course, many of us have the decency to firmly relegate our weakness for this genre to the 'guilty' category of pleasures. But - whether we're watching a favourite judge deflate some misguided sap's ego or basking in the warm glow of schadenfreude when someone's cake flops during the Great British Bake-off - while we're watching life unfold on the box, those reality stars are living it... And living it up.
Networks and studios are making big money on the reality TV generation, so they work hard to keep their 'stars' happy. According to earnings reports from several major television studios, reality competition-type shows are one of the most profitable niches in prime time. Some of these shows create stars, while some bring in ready-made stars to attract an audience. Naturally, the broadcasting industry is open to investing huge sums to gain the audiences’ attention.
Whether scripted or unscripted - and that's always a grey area at best - reality television shows have the undeniable pull across wide demographics. One favourite area of reality TV is the infamous docudrama; an often cynical medium covering everything from following people or celebrities in their unique environments, to wry observation of professions and subcultures. 'Real Housewives' is a popular example of this peculiar phenomenon. If legal scandal is your thing, there's a reality program for that too - Divorce Court and Cops are two delightfully cringe-worthy examples.
The all-singing, all-dancing, all-dating, all-sporting (...you get the idea) elder sibling of reality TV, though, is the competition show. Obviously, we're not hard pressed to find examples on our screens today. Some of the most popular of these are American Idol, The Voice, Dancing With the Stars and the 'Got Talent' series -we have the latter to thank for Susan Boyle!
Be it well-loved star or controversial host, the men and women at the helm of these shows are making scary money. Hold on to your hat and park your incredulity at the door as we look at the top 10 highest paid reality TV stars.
10 Keith Urban: $5 million
9 Cee Lo Green: $6 million
8 The Kardashians: $10 million
7 Adam Levine: $10-12 million
6 Christina Aguilera: $12.5 million
5 Ryan Seacrest: $15 million
4 Howard Stern: $15 million
3 Jennifer Lopez: $17.5 million
2 Judge Judy: $47 million
1 Simon Cowell: $95 million
Simon Cowell, arguably the godfather of reality TV, started off as a judge on 'Pop Idol' in the UK back in 2001. The only Brit on our list, he's famed for his uncompromising - some would say rude - approach to contestants and known for his nasty streak. At the latest count, Simon Cowell rakes in an eye-watering $95 million a year. He sits on the judging panel for hit reality TV show The X Factor and is one of the drivers behind the success of American Idol, for which he judged for several seasons. Cowell’s massive income is not just down to sitting pretty in the judge's seat though. He's a producer on America's Got Talent and several other major franchises. He's also responsible for bringing One Direction into the world; the group were born on the UK's X-Factor in 2011 when Cowell was judging, and he went on to sign and manage them. Both the X-Factor and Idol franchises have seen a slump lately, though, so it remains to be seen if Cowell can hold on to his place at the top of the list. With a baby on the way, he might want to take some time off from his hectic schedule and enjoy his fortune...
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