Chad Raphael’s “The Political Economic Origins of Reali-TV” discusses how the rise and popularity of reality TV, or in his words, “Reali-TV,” stems from political and economic forces of the TV industry. He writes that because there was an increase in competition in American television, reality TV emerged as a cost-cutting solution in this new economic environment of the late 1980s (126). Additionally, “above the line” costs soared, which include: talent, direction, scriptwriting, music composition, computer animation, and location costs (126). Reality shows, on the other hand, often used less costly production practices including “actuality” footage, reenactments by unknown actors, on-scene shooting, mixing amateur shots with professional shots, etc (124). These techniques allowed for lower production costs by not depending heavily on “above the line” costs, like well-known actors, writers, or professional cameramen.
Raphael also discusses how the spread of reality TV is not an American innovation with many European and Japanese reality shows predating the American shows. He states “these transborder flows suggest that programs that appear to be products of rapid American innovation when glimpsed from the national perspective were actually the result of an increased international circulation, and recirculation of products through globalized media markets (135-136). He cites examples like America’s Funniest Home Videos being inspired by the Japanese variety show Fun Television with Kato-chan and Ken-chan, and Survivor being based on Swedish and Dutch programs.
This reminded me of how American shows are often watered-down (or American tailored?) versions based off of shows abroad. American shows like American Ninja Warrior (2009-present) which is the spin-off of the Japanese sports entertainment show Sasuke (1997-present), and Wipeout (2008-2014) which is similar to the Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle (1986-1990) often take hit TV concepts from around the globe and use it or “repackage them” to make it familiar for and appeal to American audiences. Raphael argues that “American producers looked further abroad for ‘new’ ideas, then repackaged them for domestic and international audience” (136). ABC’s game show Wipeout, which revolves around contestants competing in a large obstacle course while comedic commentary is provided, is a good example of how the American TV industry absorbs or appropriates other global game shows, like Takeshi’s Castle. The Japanese network, Tokyo Broadcasting System, which had aired Takeshi’s Castle even filed a lawsuit against ABC asserting that the American show was a copycat of the original Japanese show. However, the Wipeout creator denied that fact. Not to say that other countries are not being influenced by America or each other as well, but it is interesting to take note of America’s perspective of innovation.
Takeshi’s Castle (1986-1990)
(the obstacle course starts at 2:45 and you can skip around to view other funny obstacle courses)