Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Week 8 TV + Reality (Core post 2)

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.  

Wipeout (2008-2014)

Takeshi’s Castle (1986-1990)
(the obstacle course starts at 2:45 and you can skip around to view other funny obstacle courses)


  1. Thanks for your post, Christal, especially for how you point to American media's propensity (and talent) for repackaging and re-marketing "new" ideas taken from abroad. American media companies may not be the only ones capable of such behavior, but the act seems a bit sinister nonetheless. In this context, I can't help but think of the utterly strange quote by CBS President Leslie Moonves in Chad Raphael's article for this week: "There is a quick turnaround time with reality" (130). Speaking with ominous impassivity, like some sort of sci-fi villain, Moonves reveals the warped way in which executives apparently think about reality TV programming. First of all, he conflates that programming with reality itself, and, second of all, he suggests that reality is something that needs to be fixed and then returned for consumption. Eerily, when considering reality, his first impulse is to think about how quickly it can be repurposed, repackaged, re-marketed, and resold. If Moonves and other media executives are so bold as to shamelessly think of innovating reality itself, maybe it's no wonder we have this glut of programming.

  2. Thank you, Christal! When you quoted how American shows were inspired by Japanese shows and programs became to products in the international circulation, which exactly points out the status quo of the Chinese market of reality shows. Nowadays, 43.27 percent of the Chinese market are Korean reality shows, and Chinese companies import the model of making Korean reality shows instead of buying the shows themselves. Hence, the reality shows are like assembly line productions. At the beginning of the importing phase, the Korean production team was dominant, and Chinese reality shows were totally delegated. Recently, the pattern changed to Korean-Chinese cooperation.

    1. That's really interesting, thank you for sharing that Lina! I don't know much about the international Asian entertainment industry/market, but it seems that South Korea is really dominating especially with its popular Korean dramas, KPOP, etc.