Reality TV is the new mantra of television producers and channel executives. It is the means to increase TRP ratings and the end is always to outdo the other channels and the ‘similar-but-tweaked-here-and-there’ shows churned out by the competition.

So fierce is the competition in this segment that every channel boasts of at least two to three reality shows. Some of them are inherited legally from abroad, (mostly and always from the USA – the Godmother of reality television) or some are cheap copies of the shows abroad.

If one channel boasts of “Jhalak Diklaja”, a take on the American dance reality show “Dancing with the Stars”, then another one has “Nach Baliye” to offset its audience value. Both the shows boast of television heavyweights, but at times, the soup served by these shows becomes a concoction of soap operas, bad production values and precarious mud slinging. Unlike its foreign contemporary where contestants’ master classic dance styles like the jive, rumba-samba, ballroom etc, these shows make the contestants dance on ordinary Hindi songs which makes the show quite mundane.

Then there are the glitzy talent shows, mostly singing or dancing, which make us all feel that any other talent is worthless unless it can be taken to the stage. The worst seems to be the addition of children to these shows. Apart from the very obvious labour of shooting these shows, the most disturbing issue is the unearthiness of dance, crude choices of songs and impolite costumes for children aged between 5 and 10. These shows (apart from becoming platforms for movies to be publicized) also produce talent which very soon goes into anonymity.

There are other brands of reality shows – quizzes. “The Bournvita Quiz Contest” remained and will always remain, for me without doubt, the epitome of dignified, knowledgeable and a polished format of fun and delight for children and adults alike. Derek O’ Brien will forever remain the consummate host who set trends for future knowledge based game shows. The only contemporary who stands shoulder to shoulder with him is the ageless Siddhartha Basu, whose “Mastermind India” produced geniuses par excellence from amongst us. In recent times, Amitabh Bachchan brought himself out from oblivion along with respect for the medium of television, in the incomparable show “Kaun Banega Crorepati”, a reproduction of the hit “Who wants to be a Millionare”. Shah Rukh Khan hosted the same show with enviable enthusiasm and also brought out the desi version of “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader”, though without much success.

In this regard, we must mention, we must mention Neena Gupta’s brilliant yet sarcastic take on “The Weakest Link”, which did not go down well with the audience due to the stinging scorns by the hostess. The latest entrant into this segment is Salman Khan with his new show “Dus ka Dum”.

MTV brought out two reality shows centered around today’s youth. “Roadies”, especially “Roadies 5.0” along with “Splitsvilla” served as new versions of reality which got the youth hooked on to their idiot boxes, me being no exception. These shows depicted the mindset of the youth and their expressions which were well received (though it was very tasteless at times).

The chief question is where did it all start?

Without a doubt, USA is the mother of this concept though European countries have given sizeable contributions as well.

The genre came on to its own in the very between the latter parts of the 20th century and the early 21st century, it existed from late 1940s in America. Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera” is often described as the granddaddy of reality television. Shows like “Beat the Clock”, “Truth or Consequences”, Ted Mack’s “Original Amateur Hour”, Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts”, “You Asked For It” showed contests, practical jokes, stunts, amateur competition, audience voting and selections dictating the shows’ trajectory .

Beauty pageants gained light after the “Miss America” beauty pageant attained heady success since its broadcast in 1954. The winners often got instant celebrity status. This laid the ground for international beauty pageants like the “Miss Universe” and the “Miss World”,, both of which began very successful journeys in the 1950s and continue till date with record participation and audience viewership from across the globe.

Modern reality television featuring participants who were more than raring to let go off their confidentiality and decorum to attain their very precious yet fleeting five minutes of fame began in the 70s. “Chuck Barris: The Dating Game”, “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show” brought out the early version of the brazenness that we see today in reality shows across the world.

“Cops”, which began airing in 1989, brought out the camcorder filming style to reality television. The concept of heavy soundtracks being used to confessional room videos were pioneered by the series “Nummer 28” which was a Dutch production. “Survivor” had its basis on the Swedish show “Expedition Robinson”, created by TV producer Charlie Parsons, and began airing in 1997.

The 21st century brought with it multiple reality shows which hit the bull’s eye with precision. “American Idol” is one such show which has been reproduced in possibly every part of the globe. Other shows like “Survivor”, “

Top Model”, “Dancing With The Stars”, “The Apprentice”, “Fear Factor” and “Big Brother” have all also had a global impact, having each been successfully syndicated in dozens of countries.

“Project Runway”, “America’s Next Top Model” and “The Simple Life” have all racked audience appreciation. So much is the effect of such shows that in April 2008, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced it will give its very first Primetime Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Host for a Reality Show or Reality Competition’.

Another type of reality show involves celebrities. Very often, these show a star going about their everyday life: examples include “The Anna Nicole Show”, “The Osbournes”, “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica”, “Hey Paula!” and “Hogan Knows Best”. VH1 has created an entire chunk of shows devoted to celebrity reality, known as “Celebreality”.

In India, reality television came with the advent of “Sa Re Ga Ma”. Consequently, the flood gates opened and reality television has swamped our television screens and lives alike. Though these shows make for interesting viewing, they become monotonous and unrealistic. It is obvious that the show has been scripted, even if loosely.

The apparent rudeness in these shows seems to be depicted as if it is an acceptable norm in the society (which it is clearly not). In a competitive scenario as is in our colleges, there is only one top spot; and yet I have never seen any kind of offensiveness. I completely agree that incentives vary. We cannot and should not compare academic excellence with trivial shows and the money it generates but what is appalling is that we mock our own value and educational system through our behaviour in such scenarios.

Reality television should stay and it must, as entertainment is required, but I believe that it must be regulated. It is high time we see what young children are watching and doing on television.

Sayan S. Das