The Real World: Too Many Seasons

3 03 2011

MTV’s pioneering reality show, The Real World, will premiere it’s 25th season next Wednesday night.

As the intro goes: “This is the true story, of seven strangers, picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped. Find out what happens, when people stop being polite, and start getting real… The Real World!”

Well this season seven lucky twentysomethings will be livin’ it up on MTV’s dime in Las Vegas. Exciting? Yes. But not because it hasn’t been done before.  This is technically the third time that the RW has filmed in Sin City- although it is only the second cast. 

In 2002-03, 28 episodes of the gang that inhabited a suite in the Palms Casino Hotel. At the request of the resort, all of the housemates were 21+ years old.  This season is remembered for it’s tumultous relationships, starting with a roommate threesome in the hot tub on their first night together.
In 2007, the same group was reassembled for what would become a six-episode series. MTV categorizes “Reunited: The Real World Las Vegas” as a “spin-off mini-series.”  It wasn’t a whole season, by any means, when compared to the length and content of the other 20+ installments, but I think it should count as one more reason the “Back to” concepts are tiiiiiired. (Of which there have been 2 seasons in New York, 2 in New Orleans. Yawn.)

So… I’m less than jazzed about the impending shenanigans. I’ve seen the drunk hookups in just about every season, and at this point the Thursday nights we spend at the Jersey Shore are definitely more risque- and entertaining.  

I’ve watched The Real World fairly religiously since season seven which filmed in Seattle… which, now that I think about it, aired in 1998 when I was nine. That doesn’t seem kosher.  

I probably shouldn’t have been developing fierce, lasting attachments to <Julie (New Orleans), The Miz (Back to New York), Brad and Robin (San Diego), Isaac (Sydney), and Ryan (Brooklyn)- when most people children were obsessing over Pokemon cards and whether you could stay up to watch the TGIF line-up on ABC.

Oh well. As much as I love this show, there have been more seasons in the last five years that really had no stand-out “love em or hate em” characters. It seems as though since MTV has begun pumping out a one and a half to three seasons in a year- the quality of the cast and the situations have been lacking.  Additional changes to the reality show that started it all, include the implementation of a collaborative job, beginning in season 5/Miami; a shift from 30 to 60 minute episodes in season 20/Hollywood; and the practice of casting eight roommates instead of seven that took effect in season 21/Brooklyn.

”]Personally, I suspect that the format of The Real World began to change because of the loss of co-creator and executive producer Mary-Ellis Bunim in 2004. Bunim was an emensely talented and creative producer, having a hand in several daytime programs in the 1980s, then Road Rules, Making the Band, and The Simple Life- which made Paris Hilton & Nicole Richie household names.

I wonder if any of the ammendments to the structure of the show that were made after the 2005 season were things that Bunim would have (or had) objected to. It makes me sad to think that a project so extraordinary, ground-breaking really, that she created has grown into something she perhaps never intended it to be.
I’m sure that MTV is still making a ton of money off of this franchise, otherwise they wouldn’t have renewed it through season 26, but it has to be considered that a new crop of MTV watchers- the (gulp) Bieber crowd- are the ones discovering The Real World, as opposed to the angsty 90s kids who are now well into their 30s. And this is who MTV is catering to. Yikes.

The simplicity of the early RW days are long gone, but does that mean the concept has to be corrupted?
Castmates, most notably Irene McGee, have spoken out about the (in)authenticity of the process and the manipulation by the assorted producers and crew having significant influence on the relationships and the show- thereby negating the “real” in Real World.

Its understandable that in 25 seasons, which works out to 179 individuals featured (more if you take into consideration the people who replace castmates who leave or are forced out), there are going to be people who just don’t touch the audience or are overshadowed by bigger personalities in the house. Some manage to paint themselves as so low-key, they lose the attention of the camera crew and have full adventures viewers will never see (SIMON, Paris).

It is however, somewhere in the realm of unforgivable to think that what we are watching is in any way staged or scripted. It would be entirely counterproductive to the premise and promise of “The Real World.”  Editing tricks and re-enactments of situations are a hazard of this vein of the entertainment industry, but they aren’t worth the risk: Your audience can (and usually will) find out and turn on you.  [See: MTV’s The Hills, 2006-2010]

I wish that MTV would take a step back and look at their product.  Is there going to be any loss if they go back to filming/airing one season of The Real World per year?
I think that it would be more beneficial for them, as the anticipation would build up for this hysterical, tragic, controversial, alluring television show would be greater if we had to wait for it.  Now, in my cirlcle anyway, it’s like “Oh yeah, there’s another Real World starting.”  Not even a hint of “I can’t wait to see this season!”

The only MTV show that we wait for, count down to, and enjoy every single episode is True Life.  Even when the issue of the night is a little boring, or a little foreign and off-putting, you still get something out of it. You’re mind is getting opened- and isn’t that what MTV started out to do in 1981? Reach people through their interests in music and show a certain universality of the generation by expanding the perspective with which they view and interact with our social climate?

Examining it today, I would say that MTV has surrendered it’s mission and it’s method- all that is available on “Music Television” are poorly written, pseudo-scene melodramas (Skins, My Life as Liz) and the only music videos are shown at 3am featuring a certain few Top 40 darlings-  and they sacrificed their longest running, highest earning show in the process.  

It’s the end of the (Real) World as we know it, and I feel fine…




One response

23 06 2011
MTV Premieres Another RW/RR Challenge (Sans Road Rulers) « Marshall Lately

[…] Real World” is the Godfather of the American reality show, and while in recent years it’s number of polarizing characters has waned, the kids from the early years still make an impact. We all miss The Miz, Mark and Coral, but […]

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