It was back in the late 1980s when “Cops” first showed up on my TV screen.
It immediately garnered my full attention. Having had some experience in law enforcement, I was intrigued to watch the police officers going about their daily business. The program focused on the abuses and dangers endured by the officers every day.
On the CBS evening news out of Chicago, where I was spending my summers, anchor Bill Kurtis noted the “Cops” show was going to be the first in a long line of reality programming. Mr. Kurtis stated that in 20 years, reality type programming would take up over half of all television programming. He may have undersold it.
First off, “Cops” was not nearly the first reality show on the tube. A few years earlier HBO had premiered “An American Family, The Louds,” and, going back even further, shows like “The Dating Game” had some semblances of reality.
Still, Bill Kurtis was correct. Cops ushered in a new direction. After that all sorts of TV programs began to show up that advertised themselves as reality (even though there was little or no evidence of it.) Pretty quickly reality shows appeared that were obviously scripted and mostly poorly acted by amateurs. The whole thing mushroomed and by now is way out of hand.
Today, there is hardly a subject that does not sport a reality program and some have multiples. House repairing and flipping seems to be a big seller as does contests. CBS has a couple solid contenders with “Big Brother” and “Survivor,” both of which have been around a long time and continue to pull good ratings. Popular shows like “Shark Tank” and “Swamp People” do well year in and year out.
Of course, the premier reality show is “Putting Up with The Kardashians,” a show about a dysfunctional family in Hollywood or someplace. The Kardashians have been on for several years now and seem to be in it for the long haul. In my house, they have managed to eliminate the “E” channel that airs it (and little else.)
My own preference is still the police shows. “America’s Most Wanted” with John Walsh was a great program that lasted for years. Each week we watched as John profiled some criminal in hopes the viewing public would assist in the apprehension. Good stuff. We all suffered with Mr. Walsh, knowing his son had been brutally murdered. He says his show helped apprehend more than 2,400 suspects.
I like the latest cop offering called “Live P.D.” That one purports to be showing you arrests as they happen. That is not often true, but it seems to be at least live on mostly unedited tape. A newer version of that show is focusing on the body cams worn by the cops. That is interesting and often startling.
Several entertainment shows have survived for many years; “Dancing With The Stars” and “America’s Got Talent” to name a couple.
Romance is a big seller and, in that genre, the reality providers have gone off the hook. “The Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” are unreal reality programs, but the “Wives” of here or there franchise is terrible. It seems the idea for those programs is to put a bunch of ladies into a building and watch as they become so very unladylike. Fighting and throwing things seems to be in every scripted plot.
I guess to each their own and live and let live has to be the motto, but one thing about these “reality” programs that bother me is the onslaught of faux celebrities. I once was up on the goings on in Hollywood and on television, but now am completely lost. On the rare occasion I tune in to TMZ, I do not know any of the “stars” they are profiling. When I check into it, the mystery guests are all from some obscure reality show. Oh well, I suppose I am just missing the days when television was well written and acted. Do you?
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, “The World’s Greatest Beach” and “I Swear the Snook Drowned.” Email questions and comments to email@example.com or call (386) 441-7793.