Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Watching "lives unfold on camera"

The premise was simple: Put a bunch of twentysomethings in a cool pad and watch their lives unfold on camera. And yet the seemingly basic (and cheap) idea behind "The Real World" helped birth a genre that has eaten television whole.

A show that started as a novelty item in a land of scripted fare has launched more than just a sub-genre. Reality programming has become part of the fabric of our society, turning numerous D-list celebrities (Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, the late Anna Nicole Smith) into real stars. The TV grid now is flooded with reality shows, some of which ("Survivor," "The Amazing Race") have run for a decade.

Keeping a relatively low profile through it all has been MTV's pioneering experiment. Now "The Real World" is premiering its 25th — that's right, 25th — season, set in Las Vegas, on Wednesday.

"'The Real World' has a place in history," said Jonathan Murray, who created the show with the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, on a recent afternoon at his office in Van Nuys. "It dared to prove that real people can sometimes be more compelling than what a writer can dream up." Above: The "Real World" in 1994.

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