Negotiating the ‘real’ in ‘reality shows’: Production side discourses between deconstruction and reconstruction

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In this study, we set out to elaborate configurations of the ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ in the discourses of program makers and participants of ‘reality shows’. This production side perspective has more often been the object, rather than the subject, in the debate. We develop our argument through a theoretically informed discussion at the intersection of cultural and documentary studies. Our analysis proceeds through a thematic content analysis of 39 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 14 television professionals and 25 participants involved in the production of formats belonging to various subgenres, all with a border-crossing circulation. The analysis demonstrates that when gauging ‘the real’ in ‘reality shows’, participants and program makers do not subscribe to a ‘naïve realistic’ celebration, as the ‘reality TV’ denominator may suggest, yet, nonetheless still strongly invest in a sense of the ‘real’ or ‘authentic’. As such, they engage in a sophisticated, dynamic and, so it could be argued, strategic shifting to-and-fro deconstructive and reconstructive positions. What ensues from this dialog between deconstruction and reconstruction is a conception of the ‘reality show’ as a nodal point of the multiple and ever-evolving configurations of the ‘real’ and the ‘authentic’ in a reflexive, media-savvy culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)901-917
JournalMedia, Culture & Society
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2016


  • reality television
  • realism
  • authenticity
  • media production studies
  • qualitative interviews


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