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..

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How India’s Got Talent’s final episode ruined the whole season?

Reality television busted the dullness of Indian television few years ago with its attention-grabbing scripts and out-of-the box ideas. The prime time shows still rule the TRPs however reality shows have been successful in creating a niche for themselves. These reality shows are based on themes such as talent hunt, celebrity based shows, game shows and many more but they all have one thing in common – they either place ordinary people in extra-ordinary situations or celebrities in real-life situations and then let viewers enjoy the masala flavor.

IGT finals with shahrukh

Now the question is – Are these Reality Shows truly real? If you think this is a controversial question, well we have made our point. The credibility and realism of these shows are forever arguable. But we do have more than enough examples to prove that most of the time these reality shows are “STAGED” and “SCRIPTED” to the core. We are living in a time where people don’t mind putting their personal life in public to make a quick buck and viewers get excited as they get their daily dose of cheap fun in the name of “reality”.

Let’s look at what happened at the recent grand finale of India’s Got Talent aired on Colors:

  • The whole episode of finale was “sold” to a movie that was being released soon -Ra.One (yes, SRK starrer).
  • All final performances had something or other to do with Ra.One, although these         performances were not accounted for voting.
  • The special guest was Shahrukh Khan, who of course was there to promote Ra.One
  • He gave away autographed posters/standees, G.One toys etc to the contestants during   the show.
  • Though the show promoters or Shahrukh didn’t promote Ra.one overtly (by beating their chests), but still it was very evident.
  • SRK was promoting the brand SRK itself, alongside (as usual).

All the above mentioned highlights gave the grand finale a kick and (so called) perfect entertainment. But somehow I felt the show lost it’s originality and charm and everything looked like a paid gimmick.

This was the trendsetter in India’s Reality TV, with an entire episode sold to Ra.One for promotions.

Now contrary to above we also have few shows that still haven’t lost their touch and share of “reality”. I personally followed the complete season of MasterChef India last time and it was indeed a great pleasure to watch it. The rationale is effortless – the show kept itself away from any kind of controversies and cheap publicity gimmicks. The show’s simple yet appealing concept kept the interest in it. The winner of last season Pankaj Bhadouria now hosts her own show “Chef Pankaj ka Zayka” on Star Plus. Yes, agreed having a star (Akhsay Kumar) might have helped to gain TRPs initially but the second season which will be on air by next week has dropped Akshay and roped in world’s famous India based Chef Vikas Khanna.

Although you can argue about the “type” of content of both the reality shows but important thing to note here is that soul of a reality show should remain intact. Otherwise it looks fake and disoriented. Do you guys feel the same?