The Decade of Reality TV

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The Top 10 Reality Shows That Changed Television

© CBS.
It’s hard to remember what primetime television was like before reality shows entered the predictable TV game, unapologetically pushing dramas and comedies to the side and boldly making their own rules. But just ten years ago, watercooler discussions did not include talk of eliminations, challenge winners, or snarky judges – that is until a show called Survivor premiered in 2000, changing television forever.

Here are the top ten shows that changed television in the decade of reality TV.

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1. Survivor

© CBS.
Survivor premiered on CBS in May, 2000. The premise was new and exciting. A cast of strangers would be sent to a remote location. They would live without modern luxuries while competing for a $1 million prize. It wouldn’t be the average game show. The players had to outplay, outwit, and outlast one another while forming real friendships and rivalries. The appeal of Survivor was instant. Viewers became invested in the show’s characters, who were actually real people who would have to answer for their behavior later. It was human nature on display and we loved it. We wanted more! Survivor’s success lead to adventure-fueled reality TV competitions like the Amazing Race and The Mole.
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2. The Bachelor

The thrill of competition didn’t have to take place in remote jungles. How about a mansion, with a group of women living together while competing for a marriage proposal? The Bachelor premiered in 2002 and took the dating game to a whole new level. Viewers couldn’t look away while watching hearts get broken every week – and they were surprisingly optimistic when weeks of drama and dating led to those tear-jerking proposals. The success of The Bachelor led to plenty of copycat dating shows, from Fox’s The Littlest Groom to current cable shows like For the Love of Ray-J.
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3. The Osbournes

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Before The Osbournes premiered in 2002, celebrity worshipers would learn about the lives of their favorite stars by reading tabloid magazines or watching occasional TV interviews. Then, Ozzy Osbourne and his wife Sharon Osbourne did something that many celebrities would not have been brave enough to do. They welcomed MTV into their home, allowing reality TV cameras to film their everyday lives. The Osbournes attracted millions of viewers who quickly realized that celebrities were a mess just like regular folks. And it was oh-so-entertaining to watch their less-than-flattering moments. The list of celebrity reality shows that followed The Osbournes now seems endless, but Ozzy and his family will always be considered celeb-reality pioneers.

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4. American Idol

© Fox.
Like The Osbournes, American Idol made its debut in 2002. Also like The Osbournes, it was an overnight sensation. The format seemed simple enough. Aspiring singers would compete each week in front of a panel of judges. Only the best contestants would move forward as the competition continued each week. But American Idol offered much more entertainment than that. Unlike TV talent shows before it, Idol invited viewers into the audition process from the very beginning. We got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly as they tried out for a spot on the show. And the contestants weren’t the only entertaining part of the competition. The judges, especially the snarky Simon Cowell, became much-talked-about stars as well. American Idol quickly became must-see TV and it’s no surprise the format has been attempted on several other reality shows in the past decade.
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5. The Apprentice

© NBC.

On American Idol, potential pop stars competed for a record deal. But could a show about suit-wearing business types competing for a job at a company also be a success? Maybe if you got tough-talking millionaire Donald Trump involved! The Apprentice premiered in the winter of 2004, and with two little words uttered by "the Donald," the show became one of the year’s biggest hits. “You’re fired” became the catchphrase of an addictive show that made even the most cut-throat workplaces look like a walk in the park. Backstabbing, betrayal, and one brutally-honest boss was the formula for success on The Apprentice, which may have influenced other work-related reality TV competitions such as Hell’s Kitchen.

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6. Laguna Beach

top 10 reality shows.

Is it a soap opera? Is it a reality show? It was hard to tell when MTV’s Laguna Beach premiered in 2004, using a new approach to reality TV that would later be duplicated on hit shows like The Hills and The Real Housewives franchise. Some refer to this type of reality show as a docusoap. Docusoaps play out like scripted TV dramas and the players are shown in situations that often dramatize or glamorize real life. There are no contrived situations in these reality shows – or at least that’s what the producers would like to have us think. These shows are supposed to show fabulous folks doing their thing, whatever their thing is. Maybe Laguna Beach did start it all.

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7. Project Runway

When Bravo announced In 2004 that it would air a reality show about aspiring fashion designers, it wasn't exactly guaranteed that the show would be a hit. Did enough people even care about the fashion world to tune in? It turns out that it didn’t matter. Project Runway proved that whether it’s a show about fashionistas or dog groomers, viewers will tune in if there are enough colorful personalities and drama ever week. Project Runway helped to launch a trend of competition shows about random occupations. Top Chef is just one example of the successful shows that followed Project Runway.
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8. Dancing With the Stars

© ABC.
Who wants to see a celebrity do the tango? Apparently, millions of viewers do. Dancing with the Stars became an instant hit when it debut in the summer of 2005. There was something about a celebrity two-stepping out their comfort zone that appealed to viewers who were hungry for something new. The celebrity factor was surely a big part of the show’s success, but the show might have also succeeded if it was about Americans plucked from their everyday lives. Most of us have dreamed about having a shining moment after learning a new skill. Dancing with the Stars allowed us to live this dream through the D-list celebs who signed up for the show. Dancing With the Stars also led to less-successful attempts at the same format. (Remember Skating With the Stars?) Still, DWTS remains one of the most-watched shows on television today.
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9. Flavor of Love

© VH1.

We have already put another dating competition on this list. And yes, The Bachelor is indeed the daddy of all love-related reality shows. But the dating competition Flavor of Love makes our list for another reason. The VH1 reality show, which premiered in winter 2006, gave birth to a new breed of reality TV – the trashy kind on which drunk, brawling babes and x-rated hot tub scenes are the norm. On shows like Flavor of Love, falling in love doesn't seem to be the ultimate goal as the celebrity bachelors return season after season to find new flings. But the ratings prove that trashy dating shows are here to stay -- and we can all thank Flavor Flav for starting the trend.

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10. Jon & Kate Plus 8

© TLC.
With the success of reality shows like The Osbournes and The Newlyweds, it might have seemed like audiences were only interested in shows about celebrities. Not the case! It turns out that America is just as willing to watch reality shows about ordinary people – ordinary people with extraordinary circumstances, that is. Jon & Kate Plus 8, which premiered on the Discovery network in 2007, followed Jon and Kate Gosselin, their twin daughters, and their young octuplets. The show was so successful, it was moved to TLC where it scored big ratings for the cable network. Since the success of Jon & Kate Plus 8, we’ve been seeing a lot more reality shows chronicling the lives of non-celebrities. Shows such as Little People, Big World, which follows a family that is affected by dwarfism, and Ruby, which follows a morbidly obese woman, are some of the latest examples.