Editor's Highlights: Reality Television as Small Screen Documentary?
This fall’s lineup in the United States featured fewer reality programs, but they are still a dominant part of network TV. Jelle Mast’s September 2009 article in the Communication and Media section of Sociology Compass challenges sociologists to think about the form and function of reality television programming. Beginning with a critique of the academic community’s acceptance of the term “reality television,” Mast then compares this form to documentary television. Whereas documentary television seeks to inform, educate, or connect viewers, reality television seems to merge these goals with that of popular genres which seek to entertain. Challenging the “reality” of such programs, Mast examines many theoretical traditions to discover how reality television can be conceptualized based upon what we know about existing forms of entertainment. The ethical dimensions of reality television are also explored, for both the the subject and the viewer, along with research on the production of such programs and their audiences. Future research might yield a better understanding of both documentary television and reality television forms.