‘The Reality Closes In’ – How Unscripted Content Or Format Shows Are Leading The Show Globally

Unscripted shows

These prophetic words were said by Christof, the director and creator of the Truman Show, in a film of the same name that deals with arguably the biggest phenomenon to hit the entertainment industry for almost half a century-the unscripted format-based shows, popularity known as ‘Reality TV’.

A genre of content programming that documents supposedly unscripted real-life situations, unscripted format based shows thrive on 4 key ingredients – A big idea, a grand canvas for execution, public engagement, and most episodes ending with a cliffhanger! Born on 11th January 1973 with PBS’s series An American Family that documented the life of a Santa Barbara couple Bill and Pat Loud and their five children in the tumultuous 70s, it took TV almost 20 years to strike upon the goldmine with MTV’s The Real World launched in 1992. The trend, however, really took on with the success of the extremely popular nonfiction show Survivor which debuted in 2000.

The ripple effect continues to be felt strongly, from American Idol and its various spin-offs the world over, to Big Brother or Keeping up with the Kardashians. It has been proven time and again that as humans, we really like to watch us! Unscripted programming encompasses a variety of shows and formats including studio game shows, talent shows, dating shows, or social experiments such as Big Brother. And this phenomenon, is set to grow much bigger, as OTT platforms gear up to jump on the unscripted bandwagon, big time.

Netflix, the mother of all OTT platforms, is planning to substantially scale up its participation in the unscripted category, with up to 50 reality and talk shows slated to launch this year and more in the pipeline for 2019. Understanding the level of subscriber interaction with non-fiction programming is said to be Netflix’s primary project this year. Closer home, YouTube Originals plans to make a grand entry with A.R. Rahman’s ‘ARRived’-a music talent hunt led by the award-winning Indian composer.

As with everything, the colossal progress in technology made recently also promises a great makeover for the unscripted format show category. Already the first segment in the entertainment industry that introduced a significant role for the audience in determining the outcome of the shows, technology is coming in a big way at every stage of unscripted shows to change the way audiences engage with them. For instance, The Stream is a reality TV-based singing competition that includes online auditions as its initial selection process. The top 100 contestants that get the most streams, get a ticket to a showcase! However, the crown of transformative, interactive reality-based shows has to go to Lost in Time, a Norwegian game show that uses interactive mixed reality technology combined with a customized green screen studio to transport contestants to different landscapes scattered across time and space.

Reality shows were getting staid in their conceptualization and presentation, with audiences getting bored of the predictability and the superficiality of the reboots and the new shows that ploughed on the same conflicts and overarching stereotypes. However, the accelerated participation of streaming services as well as individual content producers, and the increasing focus on interactive technology as an integral element of such shows, have given them a new lease of life.  Unpredictability and the possibility of loss of control, that is what made unscripted shows, unscripted, and greater audience participation can be the ideal ingredient to enhance this quotient of uncertainty. As Christof in the Truman Show’ answers when asked whether anything was real, ‘You were real… that’s what makes you so good to watch.’


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