Wikipedia defines Reality Television as:

"Reality television is a genre of television programming that documents unscripted situations and actual occurrences, and often features a previously unknown cast. The genre often highlights personal drama and conflict to a much greater extent than other unscripted television such as documentary shows. The genre has various standard tropes, such as reality TV confessionals used by cast members to express their thoughts, which often double as the shows' narration. In competition-based reality shows, a notable subset, there are other common elements such as one participant being eliminated per episode, a panel of judges, and the concept of immunity from elimination."

And further down, still in the overview, wikipedia also includes:

"Reality television has faced significant criticism since its rise in popularity. Much of the criticism has centered around the use of the word "reality", and such shows' attempt to present themselves as a straightforward recounting of events that have occurred. Critics have argued that reality television shows do not present reality in ways both implicit (participants being placed in artificial situations) and deceptive or even fraudulent, such as misleading editing, participants being coached in what to say or how to behave, storylines generated ahead of time, and scenes being staged or re-staged for the cameras. Other criticisms of reality television shows include that they are intended to humiliate or exploit participants (particularly on competition shows), that they make celebrities out of untalented people who do not deserve fame, and that they glamorize vulgarity and materialism."

Wikipedia defines False Advertising as:

"False advertising or deceptive advertising is the use of false or misleading statements in advertising, and misrepresentation of the product at hand, which may negatively affect many stakeholders specifically consumers. As advertising has the potential to persuade people into commercial transactions that they might otherwise avoid, many governments around the world use regulations to control false, deceptive or misleading advertising. "Truth" refers to essentially the same concept, that customers have the right to know what they are buying, and that all necessary information should be on the label.

False advertising, in the most blatant of contexts, is illegal in most countries. However, advertisers still find ways to deceive consumers in ways that are legal, or technically illegal but unenforceable."

So I've been curious about this for a while. How are shows like Jersey Shore and Duck Dynasty (among many other proven to be scripted shows) allowed to be advertised as Reality Television when they in fact don't meet the criteria at all and are merely "themed" as Reality Television at best? The Reality TV theme of these shows shouldn't justify their advertisement as actual Reality Television any more than mocumentaries like The Office.

I know many viewers of these kinds of shows that actually think it's real (and rightfully so, it's advertised officially as Reality Television). It's a significant marketing factor. If all their viewers knew it was in fact staged and scripted, I'd predict their viewer count would drop dramatically. Essentially they're profiting off of their lie (False Advertising).

So what's going on here? Why are they allowed to do this?

  • it seems to me that there's now a difference between Reality Television, and Reality TV... just as there is a difference between Science Fiction, and SciFi. Both (the second in each example pair) started as references to the original, and have now grown to be something related but different.
    – Bon Gart
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 1:25
  • I believe that reality TV contains information in the credits which explain the actual details. In America's Strictest Parents there was a note in the credits that some scenes were staged, if you watched a few episodes you could see them quite plainly too.
    – Stefan
    Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 16:25
  • 1
    @BonGart sort of like how comicon used to be about comics...
    – Ben Plont
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 13:09
  • 2
    @BonGart - "differences between Science Fiction and SciFi"? Can you explain this, I don't understand what you mean.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 15:35
  • 1
    There is no real difference between the terms "Reality Television" and "Reality TV". They typically refer to unscripted shows. The fact that said shows now often have some sort of pre-arranged script doesn't differentiate the terms, though.
    – DA.
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 7:33

3 Answers 3


Although you have provided an excellent definition of the term "Reality Television," you need to bear in mind that there is no agreed-upon legal definition in any legislation; it is a marketing term which can be used to mean just about anything without risk of penalty, since it can never be wrong.

  • 2
    And the shows themselves aren't advertisements, so they can't legally be false advertisements.
    – Ben Plont
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 13:08
  • And it's also a localised thing, broadcasters in the (for example) UK are much more tightly regulated, and the setup situations you sometimes see in the US versions (e.g. wife swap) wouldn't happen. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 16:10
  • @BenPlont Right, I should have stated that explicitly. I'll update. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 23:03

The problem here is that you've seem to confused Reality TV with an advertisement... Reality TV isn't an advertisement.

Advertising is a form of commercial selling:

Advertising (or advertizing) is a form of marketing communication used to persuade an audience to take or continue some action, usually with respect to a commercial offering, or political or ideological support.

Reality TV is entertainment. Entertainment forms are not subject to truth in advertising because they aren't advertisements. The purpose of truth in advertising is to protect consumers from being sold goods that claim to do something or serve a purpose that they do not. Your own definition (from Wikipedia) says:

As advertising has the potential to persuade people into commercial transactions that they might otherwise avoid...

Watching a TV show is not a commercial transaction.


The assumption is that the term reality in the phrase Reality TV is advertising a specific type of television content. You could certainly make a case and see where it goes, but the likely counter argument is that those that use the term "Reality TV" have never implied that it's truly real as, after all, it is TV.

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