What is the difference between "reality" and "documentary"?

Discussion in 'TV Show Talk' started by Mark Holtz, Jan 22, 2008.

  1. Mark Holtz

    Mark Holtz New Texan

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    Richardson,...
    Here is the question:

    What is the difference between "reality" television (such as Cops, King of Cars, Parking Wars) and a "documentary" series?
     
  2. Stuart Sweet

    Stuart Sweet The Shadow Knows!

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    I will attempt to answer using my sketchy memory of a class I took on documentary filmmaking in 1987.

    "Reality" programming, which is better termed "unscripted" television, is an entertainment product that makes no attempt to inform or educate, or enrich the world at large. It makes no promise that real events were not altered or staged.

    "Documentary" programming, in its purest form, is an attempt, through the documentation (with as little staging or intrusion as possible) of naturally occurring events, to inform or educate, and generally implies a call to action. Even a documentary showing happy people in a happy place would imply that unhappy people in unhappy places have something to learn.

    "Survivor" is an unscripted program because its producers actively set the scenes and record what happens.

    "Planet Earth" is a documentary. While you can argue that there has to be some staging, and certainly some editing, in order to tell a story that people will watch, everything on the screen simply happened and the camera operator was there.

    "Survivor" makes you want to get another beer. "Planet Earth" makes you want to recycle the can.

    In the middle are "infotainment" (or more kindly, "magazine") shows like Mythbusters, 48 Hours, Dateline, etc. where investigative journalism is actively used to uncover something that is (hopefully) true.
     
  3. elaclair

    elaclair Rescued Racers Live Here

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    Stuart that has got to the be best one-line description of the difference between "reality" and "documentary" I have ever read!!
     
  4. Mark Holtz

    Mark Holtz New Texan

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    Richardson,...
    I tend to think of Survivor and Amazing Race as a "reality game show". But there are other shows where there is no game show element, the producers/camera are simply following along on a bounty hunt or such. Yet, those shows are listed as reality. Hmmm....
     
  5. machavez00

    machavez00 Hall Of Fame

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    Well said, could not have done a better job if I tried.
     
  6. Stuart Sweet

    Stuart Sweet The Shadow Knows!

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    Jun 18, 2006

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