The Real World debuted in 1992 just before the reality show genre’s popularity boomed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. MTV’s The Real World was not the first reality TV show, in fact the genre started in the 1940s with the hidden camera show Candid Camera and then talent shows into the 1950s. The reality genre also moved into films, starting with Andy Warhol’s movie Chelsea Girls which filmed several acquaintances with no direction.
The Real World claimed to have been inspired by An American Family, which documented a typical nuclear family, but there have also been similar predecessors to the show, such as Nummer 28, a Dutch show which placed strangers in a controlled environment.
The Real World takes seven strangers from different backgrounds, with opposing moral ideas, beliefs and ways of life and places them in an extravagant house and then films their every move, even as they venture outside of the house. The housemates have literally no privacy and are only not in front of the camera if they are in the bathroom by themselves. The show sparked an enormous boom in the reality arena, and now it is hard to find a network without at least one reality show. Audiences become very attached to the characters whom they believe are more like themselves, and find the raw drama and lack of script invigorating when compared to shows that were thought up and developed by professional writers.
The Truman Show adapted the reality show idea, and took it to the extreme: where the subject filmed is not simply placed in a controlled house, but his entire world is controlled from the day he was born and he doesn’t even know it. The show’s “God figure” producer Cristoff explains the show’s popularity in the beginning of the film saying,
“We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We’re tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he (Truman) inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there is nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.”
People become completely attached to Truman, watching him 24/7 because of his genuineness, everyone can relate to him on some level and everyone connects to him. Just like in The Real World, teens and young adults can relate to the people on the show, because just like our lives, their drama is real and their responses to it are not acted. Truman, just like in The Real World, skyrockets to fame, though he is just an ordinary guy and leads and ordinary life.
The Truman Show also critiques the reality genre, implying that if it continues on this pass, it will break many moral boundaries and completely engross its subjects. The problem is that the modern audience craves “authenticity” and gives the reality show its power. The Real World San Diego, the twenty-sixth season, debuted in 2011 to four million viewers, and increase of 17% from the previous season, showing that the reality genre is still as strong as ever.