The Lessons of Reality TV

The Lessons of Reality TV

Several years ago a study was conducted on the top 100 sitcoms (half hour comedy TV shows) of all time. As a class you can name many of them without looking at the list below. The researcher found something very interesting when he divided the list between “prior to Cheers” (1982) and those that came after 1982. All of the shows that came before Cheers had one thing in common. Can you guess what it was? Each episode ended with a “moral of the story” or a “life-lesson to be learned.” In fact, the writers often started with the lesson and then crafted the episode to teach that lesson. Most of the the sitcoms that came after Cheers were not centered around a life-lesson, rather most were just comedy for comedy-sake.

Author’s Perspective: I am the first to acknowledge that Seinfeld, Friends and Will & Grace cracked me up. I laughed right along with everyone else. However, the lessons my mom learned from watching I love Lucy, Sanford & Son and Andy Griffith, and the lessons I learned from watching Happy Days, Family Ties and The Cosby Show are very different from the lessons you are learning from The Simpsons, The Office and Two and a Half Men. It’s just a fact.

Now, let’s throw in reality TV. What lessons do you think are the lessons taught by most reality TV shows? Are Snooky and Honey-Boo-Boo teaching kids about humility and personal responsibility? Are the “Real Housewives of Hollywood” teaching young girls how to be respectful and to have composure? Is The Bachelor” teaching the next generation about the realities of love and relationships? There are exceptions (Undercover Boss, Extreme Home Makeover & The Biggest Loser), but most of the lessons being taught on reality TV run contrary to the traits taught in this class and valued by most of American society.  What do you think would have been the life lessons taught by “My Baby’s Daddy,” that was cancelled due to public protest?

Now, before you tell me that reality TV doesn’t negatively impact you, here are a couple of findings from a 2010 research study conducted by the Girl Scouts of American that included 1,100 11-17 year old girls divided between those who “regularly” watch reality TV and those who “infrequently” watch reality TV.

Almost all the girls (86%) in the study believe that reality shows promote bad behavior. However, girls who regularly watched reality TV differed from girls who infrequently watched on a number of variables. Reality TV watchers compared to non-reality TV watchers:

  • Thought gossiping was a normal part of a relationship between girls (78% vs. 54%)
  • Thought it’s in a girls nature to be catty with each other (68% vs. 50%)
  • Are happier when they are dating someone (49% vs. 28%)
  • Spent a lot of time on their appearance (72% vs. 42%)
  • Believe you have to lie to get what you want (37% vs. 24%)

For further results, go to

I believe that the lessons learned from TV by the average teenager today is very different from the lessons learned by the average teenager 10 years ago, 30 years ago and 50 years ago. How much impact does that have on beliefs, attitudes and behavior? There is no perfect way to measure that impact because so many variables combine to form our own world views.  However, we all must acknowledge that it changes our reality and to some degree, changes society.

Your Turn:
1) Do you watch reality TV? What shows? Pick a show and write down the main lessons this show teaches?
2) On a scale of 1-10, how much do you think reality TV affects you? Explain your answer.
3) Would you feel comfortable allowing a 10 year old to watch reality TV shows? Which ones would you recommend and which ones would you eliminate?

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