The Boston Globe looks back at the Real World‘s influence on television on the eve of the premiere of the show’s 25th season. The article is as formulaic as the show itself has become; it hits all the right notes about hot tubs, young, inquisitive virgins corrupted by more worldly housemates and the city as cast member and traces the RW style to such unlikely shows as the mockumentary-style Modern Family and The Office.
The biggest gripe I end up having about these kinds of articles is that they argue that the Real World invented reality television. It didn’t. It refined it and made it palatable to a younger audience. The idea of “reality TV” before was more along the lines of Unsolved Mysteries, Cops and America’s Most Wanted. The Real World took the conceit of PBS’ An American Family and soaped it up further. PBS always insisted AAF was a documentary, but it was received as a soap. It also sparked an entire media conversation about family values, which I analyzed in my master’s thesis, comparing it to another influential MTV reality show, The Osbournes.
It’s good that Globe writer Matthew Gilbert acknowledged An American Family in his piece. It often is forgotten when people write about the history of reality TV, but with the upcoming HBO film about the making of the series, expect a ton of think-pieces in the next few months about the series’s influence. I just hope this means that it will be available on DVD or Netflix.