Episodes

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01Week 120200607It’s not often you can point to a single moment which changes culture and society. But at 11pm on 18 July 2000, that’s exactly what happened.
Ten strangers went into a house, lived under constant camera surveillance, and performed for us.
What would happen if we merged a game show with a documentary and a talk show, thought the TV execs? What happened was ordinary people got to have their voices heard. They got to entertain and be entertained. They became the producers and the contestants. They stepped through the television. The show was Big Brother. It revolutionised TV and transformed our ideas about truth, surveillance, technology, and in the end, even politics. It changed history.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of 20 years of reality TV on culture and society.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

01Week 12020060720200613 (R4)It’s not often you can point to a single moment which changes culture and society. But at 11pm on 18 July 2000, that’s exactly what happened.
Ten strangers went into a house, lived under constant camera surveillance, and performed for us.
What would happen if we merged a game show with a documentary and a talk show, thought the TV execs? What happened was ordinary people got to have their voices heard. They got to entertain and be entertained. They became the producers and the contestants. They stepped through the television. The show was Big Brother. It revolutionised TV and transformed our ideas about truth, surveillance, technology, and in the end, even politics. It changed history.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of 20 years of reality TV on culture and society.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

01Week 12020060720200613 (R4)Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of 20 years of reality TV on culture and society.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

0220200614Whatever happened to the empowering promise of digital media in the late 90s, the one where everybody was going to be a creator?
The market got hold of it. That’s what happened.
Digital media was meant to be democratizing. We were expressing ourselves freely, and we were too busy being amused to notice reality TV was a Trojan horse for a new kind of deal between us and the screen. Surveillance was being reframed as entertainment.
As the cable channels were cranking out more and more cheap content they enlisted us, the viewers, to be part of the show. Our willing submission to being watched all the time was a form of participation that was then harnessed, commodified and sold to viewers as reality.
We chose our celebrities, we voted for them, we consumed them. And then we judged them.

Presenter: Jamie Bartlett
Producer: Gemma Newby

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

02Week 220200614How did reality TV turn surveillance into entertainment?

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

02Week 22020061420200620 (R4)How did reality TV turn surveillance into entertainment?

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

02Week 220200614Whatever happened to the empowering promise of digital media in the late 90s, the one where everybody was going to be a creator?
The market got hold of it. That’s what happened.
Digital media was meant to be democratizing. We were expressing ourselves freely, and we were too busy being amused to notice reality TV was a Trojan horse for a new kind of deal between us and the screen. Surveillance was being reframed as entertainment.
As the cable channels were cranking out more and more cheap content they enlisted us, the viewers, to be part of the show. Our willing submission to being watched all the time was a form of participation that was then harnessed, commodified and sold to viewers as reality.
We chose our celebrities, we voted for them, we consumed them. And then we judged them.

Presenter: Jamie Bartlett
Producer: Gemma Newby

How did reality TV turn surveillance into entertainment?

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

02Week 22020061420200620 (R4)Whatever happened to the empowering promise of digital media in the late 90s, the one where everybody was going to be a creator?
The market got hold of it. That’s what happened.
Digital media was meant to be democratizing. We were expressing ourselves freely, and we were too busy being amused to notice reality TV was a Trojan horse for a new kind of deal between us and the screen. Surveillance was being reframed as entertainment.
As the cable channels were cranking out more and more cheap content they enlisted us, the viewers, to be part of the show. Our willing submission to being watched all the time was a form of participation that was then harnessed, commodified and sold to viewers as reality.
We chose our celebrities, we voted for them, we consumed them. And then we judged them.

Presenter: Jamie Bartlett
Producer: Gemma Newby

How did reality TV turn surveillance into entertainment?

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

03Week 320200621A decade after Big Brother hit UK screens a new type of reality programme launched that subtly changed our ideas about truth.
Big Brother has started to get dull. Contestants have learned how to perform for the cameras. To keep the show interesting, the producers have to keep making the show weirder and more unnatural, always upping the ante.
One of the original Big Brother producers was looking for new ideas.
What if Big Brother went into the real world, where the cast would be free to take advantage of their fame? The programme could follow the social lives and loves of ordinary people – just touching it up here and there to make it more entertaining.
The show became The Only Way Is Essex, or TOWIE for short, and was at the vanguard of a new genre of reality tv known as ‘hyper’ reality.
The cast were normal people, but looked like extras from a soap. The scenes were constructed, but the emotion was real.
The lines between truth and fiction were starting to blur.

Presenter: Jamie Bartlett
Producer: Gemma Newby

A new type of reality show blurs the lines between truth and fiction.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

03Week 32020062120200627 (R4)A decade after Big Brother hit UK screens a new type of reality programme launched that subtly changed our ideas about truth.
Big Brother has started to get dull. Contestants have learned how to perform for the cameras. To keep the show interesting, the producers have to keep making the show weirder and more unnatural, always upping the ante.
One of the original Big Brother producers was looking for new ideas.
What if Big Brother went into the real world, where the cast would be free to take advantage of their fame? The programme could follow the social lives and loves of ordinary people – just touching it up here and there to make it more entertaining.
The show became The Only Way Is Essex, or TOWIE for short, and was at the vanguard of a new genre of reality tv known as ‘hyper’ reality.
The cast were normal people, but looked like extras from a soap. The scenes were constructed, but the emotion was real.
The lines between truth and fiction were starting to blur.

Presenter: Jamie Bartlett
Producer: Gemma Newby

A new type of reality show blurs the lines between truth and fiction.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

03Week 320200621A new type of reality show blurs the lines between truth and fiction.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

03Week 32020062120200627 (R4)A new type of reality show blurs the lines between truth and fiction.

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

0420200628In the fourth episode of Watching Us Jamie traces the line between reality TV and social media.

Just as fame was seeming more achievable and the stars more normal, social media and smart phones finally took off. Suddenly we had a camera and a TV channel of our own - complete with ratings and an audience.
But how should we behave now that we had our own reality shows?
Like Jade, and Kim, of course. Be emotional. Create drama. Turn every mundane act into a form of self-expression to be shared with the world. Flatter and edit ourselves constantly. Perform a version of ourselves even if it’s not quite real.
(Or does it become real when it's shared on the screen?)
A number of reality TV stars killing themselves in recent years has shown just how much pressure and stress comes with performing and being judged all the time – whether it’s reality TV or on social media.
Now we’re all reality TV stars, we compare ourselves daily to other people’s carefully edited reality, and they compare theirs to ours. And we all worry: Are we keeping up?

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

0420200628Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.
04Week 420200628How reality TV set the tone for our behaviours on social media

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

04Week 42020062820200704 (R4)How reality TV set the tone for our behaviours on social media

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

In the fourth episode of Watching Us Jamie traces the line between reality TV and social media.

Just as fame was seeming more achievable and the stars more normal, social media and smart phones finally took off. Suddenly we had a camera and a TV channel of our own - complete with ratings and an audience.
But how should we behave now that we had our own reality shows?
Like Jade, and Kim, of course. Be emotional. Create drama. Turn every mundane act into a form of self-expression to be shared with the world. Flatter and edit ourselves constantly. Perform a version of ourselves even if it’s not quite real.
(Or does it become real when it's shared on the screen?)
A number of reality TV stars killing themselves in recent years has shown just how much pressure and stress comes with performing and being judged all the time – whether it’s reality TV or on social media.
Now we’re all reality TV stars, we compare ourselves daily to other people’s carefully edited reality, and they compare theirs to ours. And we all worry: Are we keeping up?

04Week 420200628In the fourth episode of Watching Us Jamie traces the line between reality TV and social media.

Just as fame was seeming more achievable and the stars more normal, social media and smart phones finally took off. Suddenly we had a camera and a TV channel of our own - complete with ratings and an audience.
But how should we behave now that we had our own reality shows?
Like Jade, and Kim, of course. Be emotional. Create drama. Turn every mundane act into a form of self-expression to be shared with the world. Flatter and edit ourselves constantly. Perform a version of ourselves even if it’s not quite real.
(Or does it become real when it's shared on the screen?)
A number of reality TV stars killing themselves in recent years has shown just how much pressure and stress comes with performing and being judged all the time – whether it’s reality TV or on social media.
Now we’re all reality TV stars, we compare ourselves daily to other people’s carefully edited reality, and they compare theirs to ours. And we all worry: Are we keeping up?

How reality TV set the tone for our behaviours on social media

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

05Week 520200705Twenty years after Big Brother hit our screens and reality TV has produced a president

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

05Week 52020070520200711 (R4)Twenty years after Big Brother hit our screens and reality TV has produced a president

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy to become leader of the Republican Party he was already known by millions of Americans as a shrewd and astute businessman who, for 10 years, had cut through the crap on national TV.
A ruthless bad-ass who hired and fired and got things done. Just what Americans needed as real politicians seemed slow and boring and disingenuous.
But that wasn’t the real Donald Trump at all. That was Donald Trump created by reality TV.
Twenty years since Big Brother hit our screens and just look how far reality TV has come.

05Week 520200705When Donald Trump announced his candidacy to become leader of the Republican Party he was already known by millions of Americans as a shrewd and astute businessman who, for 10 years, had cut through the crap on national TV.
A ruthless bad-ass who hired and fired and got things done. Just what Americans needed as real politicians seemed slow and boring and disingenuous.
But that wasn’t the real Donald Trump at all. That was Donald Trump created by reality TV.
Twenty years since Big Brother hit our screens and just look how far reality TV has come.

Twenty years after Big Brother hit our screens and reality TV has produced a president

Jamie Bartlett looks at the impact of twenty years of reality TV on culture and society.