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?