It originated in the late ’90s — 1998, to be exact — Peter Weir movie The Truman Show Pitching an amusing scenario of a man (played by Jim Carrey) whose whole life is a ratings-tied lie, he lives in a network-based bubble that separates him from reality.

In the quarter-century since its premiere, Andrew Nichol’s screenplay has often been touted as a striking anticipation of the age of reality television, in which live cameras record every waking minute of people’s everyday lives for our delight. Its influence has permeated even the field of psychology. There is only one big problem that breaks this interpretation: the fictional show thrives on continued boredom, while real reality TV (oxymoron aside), is fueled by drama and pure provocation.

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Reality TV is built for self-destruction, violence, and foolish arguments. Buttons are pushed, egos are challenged, and feuds are clearly staged to extract the most excitement from something as insignificant as beauty salon packaging. Weir’s movie is a rosy picture of what a sane writer living in the ’90s wanted from audiences, or at least what TV executives thought we wanted. It’s clearly no analogy with the table-turning, booze-soaked meltdowns, and synchronized, simultaneous meltdowns that actually followed. The Truman ShowI wake up. Do The Truman Show Does it really herald a generation of reality TV dramas? no not like that. Not even close.

Reality TV format

Paramount Pictures
Scott Rudin Productions

Producers instigate shenanigans, not try to simplify it, and that’s generally accepted when it comes to the genre. Think of reality TV producers as the complete opposite of a therapist. in The Truman Show, arrogant producer Christophe — played by the mysterious and quietly creepy Ed Harris in one of his underrated performances — pulls the strings as the company’s puppet master. The movie sure gets this aspect of TV right. The action you see on TV is starkly directed and edited, and every frame is manipulated to alter interactions.

Peter Weir mused on reality TV, a label that wasn’t popular at the time and wasn’t known by that name, but it misses the whole way reality TV works. Having participants ready to scream bloody murders and physically assault each other is the lifeblood of the genre. You don’t delete that part, that’s the one you tease in trailers for weeks before the episode, extracting for as long as you can. The central theme of the film, the foundation that keeps the fictional show going for several seasons, is the idea of ​​a man living a perfect life.

Related: My scams, and the true story of a reality show that ruined someone’s life

Anyone who has watched a reality show in the past two decades knows that this is not what any viewer would like in real life. We want train wrecks, junkies, freaks, medical patients, hoarders, etc. The only people who will see the world in the universe The Truman Show If it were a real show in real life, it would be your grandmother who doesn’t know how to use a remote control and your sarcastic hipsters watching to laugh at Leave it to the beaver vibration.

Obsessive curiosity

The Real Housewives of New Jersey
Siren Media

Show Joe Shmo It proves that audiences would rather see their TV stars humiliated or thrown into precarious situations. It’s good to feel good about yourself, and it’s good to see others seemingly fall apart. Creative editing is not as effective as faking it or encouraging real social disorder. Viewers don’t want to see a mentally stable, well-adjusted individual with a beautiful home and a perfect wife. Reality TV is about dysfunction and neurosis. This is where the creative director comes in. “There will be some kind of written outline before you go on the field,” one of the writers/producers said (via The AV Club). The Truman Show I got it right, but they didn’t understand what they were really there to do.

In fact, the co-stars of The Truman Show He’ll seek to derail his life, only to rebuild his moral arc next season. In psychology there is a term called the Hawthorne Effect, whereby you will behave more noblely when you think you are being watched. This does not apply to reality TV, quite the opposite in reality. Going crazy can guarantee you a $5 solo phone app or a DJ Metaverse party. Before reality TV became so popular and a trigger for clownish behavior, The Truman Show It’s probably what someone who lived in the ’90s would have assumed reality TV would be like, a TV series where everyone speaks perfect English, puts their best side forward, and dresses well.

The Truman Show
Paramount Pictures

They were very, very wrong — note the memes that turn tables and women yell at cats. The secret sauce for reality TV is simple. Even supposedly “normal” people react very differently when they know they are being watched and their careers are at stake. Under conditions without cameras, even the most outlandish reality TV show would be boring. Reality TV works because everyone knows the camera is on and they’re developing it.

If your reality TV show doesn’t have at least one affair, dark revelation, mental breakdown, health crisis, or physical change, you won’t get picked for a second season. After a particularly sweet conclusion to a crisis involving his long-lost father, the TV crew triumphantly brags that they will win their time slot. We know Truman’s slow descent into madness would have been a better story, and carrying out his threat to kill his wife would have received a higher rating. OJ Simpson’s beta ratings weren’t a fluke.

Reality TV as an alternative to saving money

Jim Carrey The Truman Show
Scott Rudin Productions
Paramount Pictures

The idea of ​​reality TV, especially in the early aughts, was often a last resort. Dramas and scripted sitcoms simply cost too much. The Truman Show It produces a windfall for the network, generating the equivalent of “the gross national product of a small country”, and Kristoff’s alter ego has been described as a respectable “TV show”. the truth? Reality TV barely turns a profit, and the staff behind the shows are underpaid producers who chug handfuls of Adderall to work 24 hours a day and whine until they fall asleep. It is plug-in-the-gap programming for networks. It is a springboard for celebrities, or a safety net for them. It is my guilty pleasure. He’s not a wizard, and we all know that. Even for the Kardashians, the early arbiters of reality TV, it’s the means to the end (money), not the end in itself.

Related: The Reality TV Shows We Love to Hate

The whole premise of The Truman ShowCreating an expensive TV project around one memorable person doesn’t make remote sense from one more important perspective, which is the final financial outcome. The silly sets, security and actors on call 24 hours a day will be astronomical. Furthermore, he talks about a strange, distant time in 1998 — before the Internet became what it is today, and predates the era when we had an abundance of original programming on our phones 24 hours a day — when we had no choice but to watch all of What was scheduled on TV that particular day.

To the film’s credit, predicting what reality TV will look like is not at all what Weir or Niccol were trying to achieve. They were presenting a contemporary tale of conformity, paranoia, capitalism, and social adjustment, not a scathing critique of the media or fame. The true depths and depravity of reality TV was something no writer at the time could have imagined. In this rare case, truth is stranger than fiction.


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