Marketing Reality TV: lessons learned

By Dr. Iris Mohr, Chief Editor and Founder, Marketing Fashionista 

The TV networks learned important lessons from all the years of marketing reality TV. Originally, the reality was supposed to come from ordinary people having genuine, unscripted reactions to highly contrived situations.

As reality show franchises are worth millions, the subjects become more professional, the situations more contrived and the material more provocative. The goal too is to push the envelope just enough to inspire a TV morning or late show segment, and audiences to engage, fan, and tweet, without shocking viewers so they reject the program.

In the end of the day, television is a “personality-driven” medium. Viewers are drawn to people that touch them, and can connect with. We watch personalities unravel and fights explode on “The Bachelor” or competition on a tropical island to see who becomes the “Survivor.  Importantly, the more viewers are allowed to “know” about the people competing and identify with them, the more they will become committed fans of those people and in turn committed viewers of the show.

In the end, reality TV is all about us; a reflection of our best and worst urges in one big soup bowl, combined with creative sound effects and music montages. That said, are we lowering the bar for TV programming?

In his featured article for the The Daily BeastVictor Neufeld talks about the legacy of Don Hewitt, the original creator and executive producer of 60 Minutes. Here he offers excellent insight into the irony of reality TV.

According to Neufeld, “Lots of people in our business now criticize cable news “stars” and “reality” programs today. But I believe that there is a strong Don Hewitt continuum at work here. When the most controversial cable news anchors—even if you disagree with their point of view—show engagement, strong questioning, and insight, they’re part of that legacy. “Reality” shows with powerful characters also touch the same nerve.

Television is a “personality-driven” medium. There is no way around it. Viewers are drawn to people that touch them, connect to them. Don knew that. If there is a story to tell with a strong narrative, quality journalism, and individuals make an effort to reach out to you with intelligence, style, and distinctiveness, that is the key to success. We have evolved, sometimes too far, but there is a unique legacy that exists with us today. And that is part of Don Hewitt’s brilliance.”

Victor Neufeld was executive producer of 20/20 for 15 years, starting in 1987. He then was the executive producer of The Early Show at CBS News, and later the executive producer of Paula Zahn Now at CNN. He is now a executive producer of Fenton Communications. 

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