• Jonathan Bignell


This chapter discusses the ways that Reality TV represents both a development of television documentary forms and also a departure from their conventions. The argument that can be made in these terms is based on a model of development that addresses changes in technologies, television institutions, the cultural role of the medium and the relationships between television and its audiences. From this perspective, Reality TV is a recent form of factual programming emerging from the established mode of television documentary. The historical trajectory that leads to Reality TV has a wider scope than its reference to factual programmes, and suggests that documentary has changed because television has changed. Television documentary emerged during the era of scarcity (Ellis 1999a) in British broadcasting when there was initially one, then two, then three, four and five terrestrial channels, supplemented at the end of the twentieth century by satellite, cable and interactive broadcasting. The function of television as public service that was set in place from the beginnings of the medium in Britain has included the aim to draw together a nation and its constituent cultures, social classes and regions by showing to audiences how other people live.


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© Jonathan Bignell 2005

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  • Jonathan Bignell

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