At 25, MTV's "Real World" challenged to stay fresh

Tue Mar 8, 2011 1:24pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nineteen years ago, TV producers Jonathan Murray and Mary-Ellis Bunim put seven ordinary 20-somethings from different backgrounds into a house and launched the phenomenon known as reality television.

On Wednesday, their show "The Real World" embarks on its 25th season on MTV with much the same format and a new set of young men and women living together under one roof in Las Vegas. But now the series is just one of several hundred reality shows a year on U.S. TV, and it faces the same dilemma people do as they age, becoming old-fashioned.

"I always had a healthy respect for real people and that they would give me more interesting stories than I could ever try to fabricate," Murray told Reuters.

"But I had no imagination in 1992 that 'The Real World' would last this long. When we first sold the idea to MTV, it was a great experiment. It was a unique idea.

"It has been able to stay fresh because it is always reflecting where young people are, and what is important to them at the time," Murray added.

In its early years, "The Real World" pushed boundaries and drew attention as the stories of its young roommates revealed the attitudes of a new generation toward race, AIDS, immigration and abortion, among numerous cultural touchstones.

It showed that regular people, without a script, could be as compelling to watch as actors or celebrities, and it paved the way for a plethora of relatively cheap-to-make competition shows, quasi documentaries and series about the lives of "housewives", socialites or couples with multiple children.

According to a recent survey by Kansas City Star TV critic Aaron Barnhart, nearly 600 reality shows aired on U.S. networks in 2010 alone.   Continued...