Although reality TV is often criticized as trash and treasure for others, there’s one fact that can be disputed: Reality television has made the world a better place. From catapulting the careers of entertainers like Kelly Clarkson and Harry Styles to lending a platform to the Kardashian-Jenner family to polishing the reputation of the man who became the 45th President of the United States, the genre has had an undeniable impact on many central aspects of society, politics, and culture—and that’s only in the past two decades.
TIME put together a list of 50 most influential reality TV seasons of all time to explore the impact of this genre..Each season is a unique moment, which can be influenced by context. We chose to focus on episodes rather than series because they each capture a different time. This list is focused on American shows or those that have made the most impact on American society and audiences. However, global reality television has a huge influence. Many of our shows are rooted in original series that were produced in other countries.
Continue reading: These are the 50 most influential reality TV seasons of all time
Reality TV is a tricky category even though viewers may be familiar with it. For the purposes of this project, we’ve defined it as TV that places real people—that is, people appearing as themselves, whether or not they’re portrayed fairly—in situations that are not formally scripted but may be heavily manipulated by producers and editors. Reality shows, unlike documentary series which are more faithful to the truth, serve mainly as entertainment. Reality shows are often serialized. Characters may appear in multiple episodes and seasons, which is a difference from game-shows. Contrary to how-to or lifestyle programs, reality shows tend to concentrate primarily on the individual lives of the cast.
To develop our list, the leaders of the project cast a wide net for nominations from TIME’s editorial team, conducted additional research on the history of the genre, and debated a large list of seasons. Each candidate was evaluated on key criteria, such as originality and form, diversity of representation, personality and star influence, criticism and popularity, and impact on society. The cultural conversations were also analyzed, including which seasons led to the best and worst.
Continue reading: Reality TV Is Redefining Our World, Were It a Good Idea or Bad?
TIME staffers Judy Berman and Lucy Feldman are leading this project. They also write, report and edit by Eliza Berman and Kelly Conniff. Photo editing is by Whitney Matewe. Alex Hinnant and Caroline Olney have audience strategies. Video by Brian Braganza and Chris Grasinger. Production by Juwayriah. Wright. Tanya Cooper illustrated.
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