Anyone who knows me knows that my choice in television is questionable, at best. My favorite networks are E!, Bravo, and HGTV. When I say that these are my favorite networks- I mean these are the only networks I watch. I used to defend my TV preferences- trying to find some morsel of dignity for myself. When it comes down to it, even I have to admit there is no dignity in a TV lineup that includes: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, any show Kardashian related (Dash Dolls, Khloe and Kourtney take Miami, etc.), the Millionaire Matchmaker, Property Brothers, and many more.
I tried to get through a scripted Netflix series once. It’s not that I lost attention after a few episodes- my attention was never captured in the first place. Scripted shows require a level of thought that I simply do not want to be putting in while I’m watching TV. I don’t want to think about character motivations, dissect the plotlines, or look for hidden clues sprinkled into the dialogue of a show. There is one key difference between a scripted and an unscripted show. In a scripted show, there is an inherent level of attention that is necessary to understand, and therefore enjoy, what is going on in front of you.
When I am watching TV, I am usually simultaneously on my laptop checking Facebook, online shopping, or browsing Pinterest. This kind of behavior makes it incredibly difficult to watch scripted television. When watching TV is paired with a second and sometimes a third screen, it becomes almost impossible to fully grasp what is going on in the episode you are watching.
This is what makes watching reality TV so perfect for someone like me. You don’t have to be fully engaged to enjoy the show because the people are the show. Once you understand what each person is like- you can tune in and out as much as you please. It doesn’t matter whether the cast is on a boat, at home, or out to dinner- Lisa is always going to be the British realist, Kyle is always going to pretend to be innocent despite her overdramatic tendencies, and Kim is always going to be the ex (or current) addict whose actions will inevitably be a wild card depending on the day. Because of the character’s consistencies, you can depend on reality TV (for the most part) to make sense regardless of a missed episode or lack of attention.
Now that I’ve touched on the wonders of reality TV and the brainlessness it affords you, it is time for me to present my theory on reality TV and its viewers. My thought is as follows:
The more reality TV you watch, the more likely you are to be an avid social media user.
I came up with this theory for a few reasons. The first was touched upon above. Reality TV is non-committal. You can browse and watch. My friends who are hooked on say, Netflix Series, analyze every little detail of the show. They can recite lines to one another, and they are constantly arguing about their opinions on different intricacies of the plot. Meanwhile, when my roommate and I are watching the Real Housewives, I am simultaneously getting Daily Mail links from her and scrolling down my Facebook timeline.
Because the characters in reality TV shows are playing themselves, viewing is not limited to a 1 hour-long episode. We can watch these people’s lives play out 24 hours a day 7 days a week through social media. When a new “character” makes a cameo in one of my shows, I immediately open up Instagram, find his/her page, and hit follow. When a couple splits, I look up recent tabloid headlines to see if anything has changed since the show was filmed. Reality TV not only allows for multi-screen usage, it fuels the habit.
In scripted television, the actors and actresses are (obviously) not who they are portraying. While many viewers are still interested in following their favorite TV stars on social media, the level of connection is different. What you view on actors’ social media accounts are snapshots from a life that has nothing to do with the “life” they portray on TV. With reality shows- my 1 hour fixation can translate to hours and hours of stalking the same “characters” I watch, because on and off TV- it’s the same person. I understand (or think I understand) exactly who I am following because there is a TV show to prove the real-ness of what they are portraying on social media (or vice versa).
My last argument in support of my theory is that I think the rise of reality television and social media go hand in hand. I think reality TV and social media propel one another. Reality TV stars perpetuate their celebrity status by engaging their fans 24 hours a day 7 days a week through their social media accounts (hint- think the Kardashians). Watching these reality TV shows is only a part of the entertainment. As a reality TV fan, the full viewing experience of the show is reliant upon following the characters outside of the 1-hour episode each week.
Reality TV has always existed, but social media has opened the floodgates for the number of shows in the marketplace. Reality stars can now legitimize their worth through the number of followers they have (which should translate to the number of viewers they would have).
Reality TV leads to viewer usage of social media platforms to stay up to date on the stars of the shows. Social media perpetuates reality TV stars’ celebrity status. The two are not inherent to one another, but I think it can be argued that reality TV viewers are more likely to fuel their TV habits through second and third screen connectivity than viewers of scripted television shows. Chase Crawford is not Nate from Gossip girl, but Kim Kardashian will always be Kim Kardashian. I will never be able to sit and focus on a scripted TV show, but I will be staying up to date on Kim’s Instagram feed while I’m watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. My TV preferences may be questionable, but at least my social media habits are well developed!