So, a lot of 'reality television' is (partially) scripted. Now, normally with some Google-fu I am able to find out whether it was scripted, or at least people claiming such things (sometimes with good convincing arguments, and sometimes pure speculation). Is there any better/more definite way to find out whether a show is scripted?

Honestly, I realize the question is quite broad, but what I am asking about is a methodology on how to approach these questions.


3 Answers 3


Check the credits for any job called 'Story Editor' or similar - a friend of mine is one for many UK Reality TV shows and it's a pretty good indication that either the words/ideas that are on screen are planned or that the real goings-on have been crafted to tell a planned narrative.

  • Still upvoted and accepted, but doesn't really work that well, because a 'story editor' can just be someone who edits the unscripted stuff in such a way that you get a story. Battlebots is a clear example of this: As the show can be somewhat boring they opt to 'cast' one of the teams as 'the bad guys'. Practically this just means that they pick the moments where they act 'bad' and leave out the moment where they act compassionate or nice. Still I don't think you could call such a show scripted, because the actions and reactions are still genuine. Aug 22, 2015 at 20:36

Every single "Reality TV" show is scripted to some degree. There is just no way to effectively follow someone around 24/7 and hope to capture some drama somewhere, so in order to be cost-effective that drama must be created via scripts. Some, like Pawn Stars, are obvious because some of the "actors" are horrible at acting.

The only potential exception to the rule would be Big Brother, because they're in a controlled environment with cameras 24/7. They would have very little time (if any) to script anything, because even in the hours it's not on TV there are "Big Brother cams" you can view online.

Note: This answer is for US shows only, as I have no knowledge of shows in other countries.

  • Well, I think game shows in general tend to be unscripted, not only Big Brother. When it comes to shows like Undercover Boss or Shipping Wars it's becomes a lot harder to determine whether they are scripted and to what extend (my guess would be that the first is unscripted and the second is lightly scripted). But on the other hand a show like The Bachelor, I never saw much of it, but from the very very little I saw I wouldn't have guessed it was fairly strongly scripted. So, no, I wouldn't say it's as simple as "every show is scripted". Mar 2, 2015 at 21:26
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    I just don't think it's cost-effective to hope for drama. Have you ever pitched a show? Because I have. And the first concern, always, is how much revenue it can generate vs. how much it will cost to produce. And the only way to guarantee minimal production costs is to reduce film time, and the only way to reduce film time is to script the money scenes. Mar 2, 2015 at 21:37
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    Of course BB is scripted: all those tasks etc. are part of a script. Sure, the reactions aren't scripted, but it isn't like they put a dozen people in a house and then hoped something would happen without producers forcing people to interact.
    – BCdotWEB
    Mar 3, 2015 at 13:19
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    You're conflating planning with scripting. Yes, all reality shows are planned to some extent (Pawn Stars supposedly has fake sales so that "a buddy of mine" who appraises it can get exposure) but that doesn't mean that they have scripts. Events may be contrived, and people may even be coached on how to react, but that doesn't mean that they are given lines or told what to say, as having a "script" would imply.
    – KSmarts
    Mar 3, 2015 at 21:19
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    I'm going to disagree that every reality TV show is scripted. My family was on an episode of Sell This House on A&E about ten years ago. We were never told what to say. Things just happened and they filmed it. They shot about 18 hours of video over three days, that was edited down to 22 minutes. The format apparently was successfully; the series ran nine seasons. Our episode was rerun several times over a period of a couple of years. (And just from that one episode, we would occasionally get recognized on the street, "Hey weren't you on...")
    – tcrosley
    Apr 13, 2015 at 8:40

David Rupel explains:

Just like scripted television, writing and producing go hand in hand. The majority of my reality credits are for producing, not writing, but I'm always using my skills as a storyteller.

For example, when Monica and Chandler slept together on Friends, it was referred to as a "plot twist." When the tribes didn't merge as expected on this season's Survivor, it's simply known as a "twist." The subtle language difference implies that somehow the twists in reality magically "happen on their own." Nothing could be further from the truth. There is every bit as much thought, debate, and imagination behind every twist you see on reality–both big and small. Just like making Joey and Chandler roommates was a deliberate choice the writers made on Friends; when I produced Temptation Island, I chose room assignments based on how I thought people would affect each other.

Similarly, every time I select a location, develop a game, find a cast, look for appropriate music, it's always based on story. How will this affect the cast? Is it setting the right mood? Will it help the audience understand what's going on? All the same questions I ask myself when I write a script.

  • Although this is definitely true this is still ways of from scripted shows where a script is written that has to be followed (to varying extends) by the actors. I definitely do not equal a good dramatic game master to a good script writer (the skill sets barely overlaps). Mar 4, 2015 at 12:37

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