I was sitting in a local restaurant watching a competition reality show which had an all-female cast. Another regular customer walked in and said “Thank God for sports and news because after that (points to TV), all that’s left is this reality show crap.” I’m pretty sure he turned his nose up at me and gave me the side eye of disapproval. I call myself being a little offended by the standards he used to so quickly dismiss one of my favorite shows, although I know this is a sentiment shared by many men. On top of that, he implied that sports were about the only entertaining saving grace to escape “reality show crap” like this. This man had a television hierarchy and rated me on the low end of the scale because of my program of choice. Little did he know that I had just changed the channel from ESPN (I’m a sports chic!). But, there he was confidently assuming otherwise. How could he really judge me based on this show? What is TV trash to one is TV treasure to another.

Personally, I’m a little picky about my reality show selections. I prefer competition and human story programming, as opposed to the ones that are drama for rating’s sake (perhaps I have a t.v. hierarchy too). They have their share of drama, but it’s usually set around a mutual goal or prize for winning. They come with some back story. I get to learn about where the competitors are from, what they stand for, and the name of the family dog. You get the picture.

Then, I started to give some thought to what was on the high end of this gentlemen’s hierarchy: sports. I began to think about the on-going NBA draft selection process as rosters are being finalized. I reflected on the last couple of years of NBA and NFL seasons, which included all manner of side-court drama: the Lebron (aka the LeBrat) side show; a Vick comeback no one could have ever seen coming; and name changes that include a call for world peace and incorrect Spanish numbers. I see you Ocho!

I wondered, “what is so different between reality TV and sports TV?”

I’ll thank you to spare me the speech about sportsmanship and healthy competition. There is drama on and off the court. Let’s keep it real. Most of the games are broadcasted live into the homes of millions to viewers of all ages. How much more “real” can a show get? Coaches yell at refs about a bad call. Players trash talk, fight, and curse each other out. Star athletes get ejected from games for flagrant fouls and attacking fans seated in the stands.

It’s not just what is happening at the games. In the last few years, sports TV has expanded its programming to include longer pre-game and post-game coverage that make a point to recap much more than just the stats and the final score. Even more, daily sports shows give us the player backstory including commentary on their childhood, the contract disputes between players and management, the on-going beef with other players, and regular reports on whose marriage is on the rocks. Sounds like an episode of “Basketball-House-Husbands” to me! In lieu of this, I find it curious that reality TV shows, especially those based on the lives of women, have such a poor reputation while sports shows based on the same concept thrive with respect.

And both programs have similar content:

  • There is a fight for the bragging rights: who’s the badest; who’s the best!
  • The genres are based on a business model created to secure a viewing audience to get ratings for sponsors and directly impact marketing dollars.
  • There are people competing, trying to out-do each other.
  • Rivalry is considered natural and is encouraged.
  • Key players share aspects of their private lives to gain a loyal audience which keep ratings high.
  • Cameras follow them around while they yell and scream at others.
  • And they are both collecting a nice pay check to do it.

Are sports TV and reality TV really all that different?


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  1. Chuck TenFold

    I guess I agree with that both are based on the same principal. But TV is like politics you choose the lesser of 2 evils or which show is more similar to you as a person.

  2. Tyesha Williams

    I truly dislike reality tv. I stick to the sitcoms but I here you. lol

  3. Tyesha Williams

    hear* lol

  4. The thing about reality television that makes it different from sports is that most reality television stars are not trained professionally at something that the average person could not do. We love watching Peyton Manning thread the defense game after game because if we were in that position we certainly would have a much tougher time.

    I personally would love to see the rebirth of sitcom television shows or even more scripted HBO or Cinemax shows like Entourage or Californication (clearly male shows), however there will always be millions of fans for professional athletes because of their talent primarily.

    • @Knowbody: Some great points! I think you make a good point about the “professionally trained” aspect. But there are certainly many athletes who are celebrated for being self-trained. The same with some of the most famous television stars who are naturally talented.

      • No. Professional athletes at the highest level are not “self trained.” If you believe this then you are closing your eyes to years and years of training and, possibly more importantly, repetition to achieve the appropriate levels of muscle memory required to—for example—throw a ball accurately across a field while a 300 pound giant is about to destroy you. To compare this level of aptitude to “naturally talented TV stars” is, frankly, ridiculous.

  5. Where do I Start!!!!!!????!?!?!?? GREAT article first of all….. If one is a TV viewer you will at some point fall under the REALITY TV Trap only because the choices we are given as viewers are being limited as the years have gone past and this is the generation of ” Reality TV” Nothing is just straight tv anymore, there was a time when you could turn to the likes of ESPN and it was just raw sports reporting or programing, or MTV where it was straight music, or local tv programming cartoons, news, sitcoms, or drama and even then we were all put in a TV category by others in a manner based on what we watched. I too am the sports chic that loves the reality talent shows, but dreads the “Woman v Woman” or “Urban” reality tv and do find myself judging those that watch, but also know that I am being judged based on what I watch. But for me I find the difference just that..THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. Sports is not scripted it is TRUE REALITY there are no edits and retakes were as REALITY TV is scripted and is not TRUE reality.

    I also found in MY EXPERIENCE the people I have come in contact with that like DRAMA filled reality shows like and have drama in there own lives, and this could have been the reaction that you were experiencing from the customer that walked as you flipped the channel. We all do it some to extreme some harsher than others.

    This is my Reality
    Peace & Blessing

  6. Jamie fisher-potter

    I personally think it all depends on what entertain you in the long run! I mean I watch bothe sports and “reality” show just because it funny sometimes but it all is a choice. I know some people who don’t like reality show because of the dramaor stupidity of the individual’s in the shows.

  7. I like this perspective, it’s one that I never considered. I think Knowbody makes a good point in pointing out that athletes train for years and are skilled tradespeople while most do not perceive reality television stars in the same light. This is where the genre of reality tv gets broken down because you have the cooking and modeling and design shows which are geared at just that, finding the most talented and skilled in their arena. I think that there is less of a comparison to be made to what many refer to as sensationalized television where people earn a slot on the show merely by who they’ve been associated with. I think it’s this view of people garnering fame and notoriety because of who they are/were in a relationship with and not any skill of their own is what lends to resentment. Personally, I enjoy studying people so, while I am not a regular connoisseur of television in general, let alone the reality shows that follow people’s day to day lives, when I find myself watching them I tend to enjoy them or at least get something out of them.

  8. This was a great piece. I never even thought about the comparison between the two until now but it makes complete sense. Unfortunately, as you pointed out in your writing, the scrutiny is still given to women unjustifiably and unfairly, which only perpetuates the cycle of misogyny.

    I say just turn all of it off and read a book.

    • @Nick Florest: WOW! You went there with the m- word. “Misogyny” and other gender discriminating norms really change and challenge the ways that men and women are perceived differently in the media. That is a key factor in all of this. Thanks for bringing that point out.

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