A reality check for so-called reality TV

Friday, January 17, 2003

So-called reality shows are the latest buzz in TV land.

Stories this week described television executives as being impressed by the ratings of "Joe Millionaire," "The Bachelorette" and "Star Search." Apparently, TV big shots are easily wowed.

Here's a bit of reality: Take a close look at those ratings.

While the premiere of "Joe Millionaire" had the highest rating of any of the reality-class offerings, it didn't have very many viewers. In fact, Nielsen ratings show that 43 percent of U.S. households didn't even have their TV sets turned on when "Joe Millionaire" came on. And of the sets that were on when "Joe Millionaire" premiered, only 37.1 percent were tuned to the top five channels (CBS, Fox, NBC, WB, UPN). Bottom line: only 6.4 percent of the nation's population was tuned to "Joe Millionaire."

The fragmentation of viewing is one current phenomenon of the TV industry. And the lack of reality in the "reality" shows is another. How long will viewers be bamboozled by manufactured reality? About the only thing that's real about reality TV is the commercials.

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