Streaming should be the end of reality TV

Binge-watching reveals the cracks in reality TV’s appeal

Without suspense, these shows just don't hold up.
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If video killed the radio star, then streaming should kill reality television. 

The appeal of reality TV is undeniable: humans are inherently nosy creatures. There’s a vicarious thrill in watching other people live their lives. While memorable personalities often keep viewers returning, reality TV is most successful when it exploits our curiosity. 
 
Unfortunately, this curiosity can’t make ordinary people less boring. Without guaranteed intrigue to keep viewers hooked episode after episode, reality TV would be like watching paint dry. For producers creating these shows to make money, the choice between scripted and genuine reactions is easy. 
 
Nonetheless, something is alluring about tuning in every week to see what happens, even if it’s another half-hour of scripted drama. Viewers become so invested in the lives of strangers that they start to feel like friends—or in some cases, enemies. 
 
Reality TV relies on artificial suspense created by the time between episodes. The near-extinct cable television model had programs air once per week, turning reality TV into a scheduled event. However, when this anticipation isn’t building every week, the cracks start to show. 
 
When shows like Survivor and Big Brother popularized reality TV in the early 2000s, the only way to watch new TV was as it aired. For many viewers, speculating between weekly episodes was often just as fun as watching the show itself. 
 
This system tricked viewers into believing their enjoyment of the whole rigmarole meant the show was actually good.
 
This isn’t to say reality TV can’t be enjoyable television; when done right, reality TV can surpass genre clichés and stand independently from this artificial suspense. Unfortunately, with minimal effort and creativity being put into the majority of present-day reality TV, this hypothetical stands as an exception to the rule rather than the norm. 
 
As consumers of entertainment, we’ve become pickier than before. 
 
Non-reality TV used to be where acting careers went to die. Gatekeepers often labelled TV as a lesser medium to film, treating it like an immature younger brother. Sitcoms, while popular, were doing little to move the needle toward respectability. 
 
Enter the last two decades of television. Iconic shows on pay-per-view networks such as The Sopranos and Breaking Bad legitimized TV for a new generation. Despite ultimately being a colossal disappointment, the finale of Game of Thrones rode in on blockbuster hype. 
 
More recently, shows like Stranger Things have dominated pop-culture while existing only on streaming services. The internet makes the entire history of TV easily accessible; streaming services are moderately affordable avenues to unlimited high-quality content. 
 
With endless options at our disposal, watching anything less than the best TV is a waste of time. Shows today don’t need between-episode intrigue. Their characters may be played by actors, but the drama is often far more authentic than reality TV. 
 
The need for reality TV is dying. Streaming should be the final nail in the coffin.

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