This essay attempts to break down a binary opposition between “quality TV” and reality TV, which is usually set up along an axis of distinction based on aesthetic value. That is: HBO dramas are art; reality TV shows are trash. As Misha Kavka writes, “Because reality television is seen as a dumbed-down media form with a low entry threshold for participants, its diminished cultural value rubs off on participants' claim to fame, while its reputation for creating D-list celebrities confirms reality TV's low cultural value.” While this is true of reality TV in general, this article suggests that, with the proliferation of reality shows, we now have a taste hierarchy within reality TV. The Bravo cable channel in the US—now called Bravo Media as it expands to multiple platforms—has pioneered the high-end reality series, working within two genres (whose names I borrow from the New York Times Magazine): competition series, such as Project Runway (2004–) and Top Chef (2006–), and docudramas, such as Flipping Out (2007–), The Rachel Zoe Project (2008–), the Million Dollar Listing franchise (2006–), the Real Housewives franchise (2006–), and many others. Bravo seems to exemplify the perfect fit between a niche audience and a boutique show. In addition, the article suggests that the audience is already embedded in the show through affective economies, product placement, extradiegetic activities like blogging, and a more intimate relationship with television executives than ever before. Bravo Media points to the pleasure of being totally commodified, but this pleasure is certainly not for everyone.
1 May 2015
Jane Feuer; “Quality” Reality and the Bravo Media Reality Series. Camera Obscura 1 May 2015; 30 (1 (88)): 185–195. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2885497
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