I'm a big fan of any series on the Bravo network that features "real" ladies having feelings, scandals, emotions, and breakdowns. It's interesting, really, that I'd be fascinated by such material, since for most of my life I've adamantly proclaimed that I have no interest in watching any series featuring lawyers, and I'm a lawyer by profession. Although the Bravo "Real" shows rarely feature lawyers, they often feature emotions, break ups, and divorces which ARE things that I see everyday in my line of work. One might think that I wouldn't want to spend my free time watching what I already see from 9-5. So why the fascination?
I believe the reason I enjoy the shows so much is two-fold; first, reality TV, and in particular the "Real" franchise, elevates the boredom of day-to-day living to something entertaining. Somehow, someway, it always seems that the most compelling "characters" of the show are those that create the most talk around them. You see the building of the foundation (i.e., someone starts to talk behind another's back), the arc of the story line (others, as well as the talked-about individual find out that the talk was occurring), and the climax (the talker and the talked-about confront each other; fighting (and sometimes hilarity) ensue). You see the fallout from the event. And even more interesting is the fact that the "event" itself is rarely important- it's usually something uninspired and arbitrary like calling someone "fake" or insinuating that they overimbibed at the last social shindig. Reality shows can make something out of literally nothing- take any person, with a little bit more character and drama in their life than the average Joanne, and then edit the heck out of their day-to-day life (as well as those talking about them) and BAM! you've got ratings gold. I love the idea of making the mundane fascinating and applying it to a storyline. It prompts you to reimagine every formerly-boring detail of your life through the eyes of the reality lens: Was J. talking about me? Are B. & C. going to gossip about this dress (is it a little frumpy)? Will my sliders and truffle fries be well-received, or are they too informal for this party?
Second, I believe that a lot of us have a need to connect and see other humans experiencing real emotion that result from the same day-to-day situations that we all have. Although I'm watching on TV, I've watched the same characters from my own sofa in my own home so many times, I feel I start to know the character's personality. I start identifying with certain characters, as I see similarities in the network versions of their life-struggles and my own. Obviously, I can get feedback my family about my struggles with the frumpy dress or the inappropriate sliders. However, I can SEE how a "Real" housewife actaully experiences the same situation, and then hear her talk about how she feels about it after.
Now, although I've referenced exceptionally boring and uninspired situations as reference points (gossip, food, and dresses), you can obviously scale this to much bigger and emotionally-charged situations, such as the death of a loved one, a break up, a custody fight, or a divorce. Sometimes, when you're struggling with the same thing, it really does help to actually see someone share their story, live it, and talk about it, television-edited-and-produced or not. Before the advent of the reality series, most television and movies were scripted and featured only characters that came from the depths of an LA writer's imagination. Now we can see real people, with real struggles playing out right there in front of us- and real people are relatable This brings me around to my original point: We all have issues that we ourselves believe are too dumb or selfish or painful to discuss, and we all wonder if the way we handle our own private issues is "normal." Reality characters show us that there are no issues that are too dumb or selfish or painful to discuss...live on TV no less. Good or bad, reality characters normalize these experiences and their reactions to them. Though we might not do it on TV, it's ok to breakdown if something traumatic happens, it's ok to get drunk if your dog dies, it's ok to kick a bathroom stall door if you get a Complaint for Divorce served on you at work, and it's not unusual to fret about the menu at a dinner party. They do it, and it's not abnormal that we do it too.