What makes a reality show work?

With so many “Reality” shows in today’s time (both nationally & abroad) it’s very important to understand why and how a reality show clicks. There have been so many mega-successful shows in US/UK and their counterparts in India (and so many flops) that it is necessary to learn what works and what doesn’t. In this post we try to analyze deeply as to what are the different elements of a reality show and what should be taken care of while creating a new reality show.

Almost all of the reality shows in India or elsewhere are localized versions of already popular US or UK shows. Here are some of the shows which have worked (in India) and some which haven’t. We’ll then analyze all the aspects to understand what it takes to make a successful Reality Show:

  • Mega-successful shows-
    • Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who wants to be a millionaire)
    • Indian Idol (American Idol)
    • Dance India Dance (So you think you can dance)
    • Bigg Boss (Big Brother)
  • Successful Shows-
    • Fear Factor India (Fear Factor)
    • Jhalak Dikhla ja (Dancing with the stars)
    • Sa Re Ga Ma Pa
    • Boogie Woogie
    • Masterchef India (Masterchef US/Australia)
  • Flops-
    • Zor Ka Jhatka (Wipeout)
    • India’s Minute to Win it (Minute to Win it)
    • Survivor India

Contestants: No doubt contestants are single biggest asset of a reality show. Wrong selection of contestants can make or break the entire show. Contestants can be broadly categorized as- “Common man” and “Celebrities”. Depending upon the format of show creative team may decide to have common man or celebrities or a mix of both as contestants. For pure talent based shows like KBC, Dance India Dance, Indian Idol etc it’s  imperative to have common people as main contestants otherwise it looks too dramatic and unreal (remember how we feel when a celebrity wins 50 lacs in a KBC episode?). Celebrities as contestants work very well for reality shows in which drama quotient needs to be high. Questions have been raised about such reality shows being truly “real” but now audience have kind of understood that reality shows involve either good “editing” or good “drama” to look exciting on TV. Some such shows are Bigg Boss, Survivor India, Zor Ka Jhatka. Example of shows having combination of both “common man” and “celebrities” as contestants include Fear Factor (India) and Jhalak Dikhlaja.

Drama: Television is all about drama and not having any drama in a reality show is a sure shot way to kill it. An emotional story can become an important part of show’s success. KBC is known for creating dramatic situations based on a contestant’s profile or based on the question “What would you do if you win a Crore?“. Shows like Bigg Boss rely too much on drama which is demanded by its format. “Zor Ka Jhatka” couldn’t impress audience even with Shahrukh Khan because it lacked both good contestants and drama quotient. If you actually see original “Wipeout” it’s one hell of a funny show and it does it without SRK type host.

Host: Even though host is 3rd most important thing it indeed plays an important part in taking the show to next level i.e. from success to mega-success (like Amitabh in case of KBC), Khatron Ke Khiladi (with Akshay Kumar as host) or from utter failure to moderate success (Dus Ka Dum could have bombed badly if Salman wasn’t there). But in case a show lacks above 2 important characteristics chances of it failing increases- SRK could never save Zor Ka Jhatka and even KBC with SRK couldn’t attract audience as much as Big B. My tip: Get a host with good sense of humor or with lot of character- Raghu/Rajiv and Rannvijay are known for their tough/macho characters and they don’t need Akshay Kumar.

Plot: Borrowed or not, plot does play an important part in a reality show’s success. How? Well first thing is it identifies your target audience. KBC had a national appeal, Roadies & Bigg Boss have youth appeal, Dance India Dance is liked by a specific set of audience and so is Masterchef. Plot helps a production house lay its marketing plan and execute it. Beware! If top 3 things are not in place, plot will never help you win your audience.

Editing: Editing is an important part of any reality show, specially of those shows in which cameras roll continuously. In my opinion India’s Minute to Win it suffers from really bad editing as against its US counterpart. Dance India Dance is edited very well despite it being a talent reality show. There is always a connection between the contestants, Mithun da and 3 judges (Remo, Terence and Gita). Good editing is evident from a show which keeps you glued during the program, bad editing gives you enough reasons to switch 🙂

Connection: Well this is second last part of “what it takes to create a good reality show” but trust me, unless your audience feel “connected” with your show, you CAN NOT make it work. Connection happens if you get all of the above things “just” right for your show. There is no formula for this, it just happens!

Audience: Audience may include either studio audience or audience watching at home or both. In KBC, studio audience is well trained before shoot- they are told when to clap, how much to clap, when to laugh, who sits in front, who sits in background, what should be your facial expressions.. everything! It’s like a controlled backdrop scenario which is very important taking into consideration the plot of the show. In case of shows like Minute to Win it studio audience is supposed to be very energetic (which sadly doesn’t happen in Indian version). In talent based shows like DID or Indian Idol studio audience makes singing or dancing more enjoyable by clapping and dancing along with the contestants. Shows like Wipeout expect audience sitting at home to be their real audience and the host directly tries to talk to that audience. Audience is important because it makes or breaks your show- understand your audience!

These are the key elements of a reality show, there are many other like sound, camera, direction which are important but they are common to all TV shows.

Do you think there are other important aspects? Please comment..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s