Can Reality TV Translate to the Big Screen?

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Alcon Entertainment
April 15th, 2012

Reality television has become incredibly popular in the past couple of decades. There is a reality television show for practically every interest, including antiques, music, interior design, fashion design, and motorcycles. Considering the success of reality television, some audiences may wonder if producers may start making reality movies. However, reality television will most likely stay off the big screen. Television and movies have different formats, and it would be difficult for producers to bridge the gap between a reality television show and a reality movie.

Reality television shows have a day-to-day format that gives the audience the sense that they are watching someone else's life unfold in real time. Even though a lot of extra scenes are edited out, reality shows can still make an episode out of only a few days or even a few hours of activity. In a movie, this just simply would not be enough material to form a complete story arc. Yet, if the footage were to span a greater time period, the reality movie would lose its day-to-day format.

Audiences rely on the episodic updates of their favorite reality shows. They look forward to tuning into their favorite shows each week to see what's new. This draw is one of the things that makes reality television so popular. A reality movie would not have the advantage of updating every week and, therefore, audiences would not be as faithfully drawn to it.

Another reason reality television is so popular is that it has an interactive aspect to it. Many shows require viewers to vote, which helps them feel connected to the show. Viewers like to watch reality shows together to chat about the events as they're happening. Audience members would not be able to interact with each other like this in a movie theater setting. In addition, audience members post to forums and read blog updates in between episodes to talk about their favorite characters. They can talk about events as they're happening. Turning a reality television show into a movie would mean losing this interactive element.

Movies gain many fans by hiring actors and actresses who are already popular. Existing fans of these celebrities will come to see a movie just because their favorite actors or actresses are in them. In contrast, reality television stars are usually everyday people. Because of this, it sometimes takes several episodes for the audience to get used to the stars of the show and grow to love them. A reality movie wouldn't have enough screen time to allow viewers to grow attached to the stars.

To keep an audience interested for several hours in a row, a movie must have a clear story line with a beginning, middle, and end. Reality television shows, by nature, do not follow this format, so it would be almost impossible to adapt a reality show into a movie. Because reality shows are not supposed to be scripted but rather natural, the audience would likely get bored of the seemingly random events of a reality movie.

Producers like making reality television shows because they are cheap to produce. Prices for sets and costumes are minimal or non-existent. They don;t have to worry about special effects or expensive equipment. It's also easier to market a television show than it is to market a movie. If a reality television show was turned into a movie, many of these production aspects would change, making the production much more expensive. Because of this, reality television producers are likely to stick to the television medium.
While it is not likely that there will ever be movies that follow the reality television format, there are already many movies about real-life events. Documentaries chronicle real events with an editorial spin. In documentaries, experts comment on real life events and editors compile different types of footage to add to the commentary.

Movies that are based on true stories, such as "The Blind Side" featuring Sandra Bullock, have delighted audiences for decades. These movies do not involve actual footage from real events. However, the stories they tell are based on true events, which are sometimes changed slightly to fit into the movie format better, while keeping the core of the story true to real life.

Reality television has its place on the small screen, while movies continue to wow audiences on the big screen. It is unlikely that reality television will ever make the jump to reality movies. However, movies will continue to give audiences a dose of reality. They will just offer it with an added story-telling perspective.