Four Case Studies of Entertainment Reality Television: Survivor The Bachelor The Real Housewives and American Idol

Trelease, Rebecca Aimee
Johnson, Rosser
King, Barry
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis investigates the phenomenon of Reality Television as a form of television. Although existing research does analyse several notions of what Reality Television is, this research seeks to understand the how. Employing four case studies of global Entertainment Reality Television formats on air between 2000 to 2018, this research asks, ‘What is Reality Television doing, and how?’. These four case studies develop a critical understanding of how the hybrid nature of certain formats have unfolded. In doing so, the research is centred on case studies of formats that were broadcast for at least a decade previous: Survivor, The Bachelor, The Real Housewives, and American Idol. This provides the opportunity to examine individual developments within each format, with a focus on identifying peculiar characteristics that have been incorporated within a format to maintain an engaging and compelling show. The characteristics are: the long-running narrative of soap-opera; the live event; the expression of region; and encouraging audience interaction via digital media. With analysis ranging from individual shows to multiple seasons, through to multiple regional versions, this research demonstrates how each format has incorporated and adapted specific attributes more commonly associated with another television genre to remain distinct. Additionally, an underlying theme throughout the research is its concentration on how each format has developed this hybridity over time: each format can therefore be analysed to foreground the differences between early and later seasons. In doing so, this thesis presents an understanding of liveness and time as has appeared within these shows, and to some degree, the Entertainment Reality Television genre.

This malleability and dynamism of the Entertainment Reality Television genre is constituted by (1) the inclusion of defining characteristics of adjacent genres, and (2) how they contribute to the longevity of the format. It will further argue that: subsequent seasons can no longer feign innocence; the format bible is a living document; even closed texts must include liveness; and across both open and closed texts, all case studies encourage audience engagement. Ultimately, this thesis will show that flexibility allows formats within the Entertainment Reality Television genre to flourish.

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