Reality television, a genre that did not exist 20 years ago, consumes modern day programming and, whether one is willing to admit it or not, draws us all in. Sometimes, it is to the point where we become emotionally attached to characters and feel that we know them on a first-name basis. Often dubbed a guilty pleasure, reality television invites us to indulge in someone else's life journey, with the risks and consequences of their choices on full public display. This allows us to escape from our own "reality" which is why we gravitate to reality stars that seem to have problems and life dilemmas that are bigger than our own. No matter how over-the-top a character's struggles appear, the average person can always find them relatable in some way, which keeps us all tuned in. Over the past few years, a surge of shows have premiered and experienced runaway success due to that powerful audience connection and the "water cooler" moments reality consistently offers.
In Hollywood, Gen Y drives billions of marketing dollars and many of the industry's decisions. This key demographic grew up alongside reality television and has no recollection of a television landscape without their guilty pleasure. Thus they have no knowledge of a time before reality television, which is why Gen Y continues to be a core target for programmers.
Reality television is an entirely character driven industry. You simply could not make up a character like Snooki or the cast of Duck Dynasty. Trying to satisfy viewer's veracious appetites for new content, producers will always be searching for the next big thing in reality television. Finding something bigger and better than what is out now is what we strive for. Similar to fishing, we are all trying to land the "big fish" that will have not only have audiences talking, but our peers as well. Ultimately, truth is stranger than fiction and this is why reality works and will continue to work. It affords the audience a temporary vacation from their own lives -- allowing them to forget about their own problems for an hour or two.
You never know what the next reality television hit will be until it airs and the audience reacts. If there was a proven formula, someone would have patented it a long time ago. But what I can say, with absolute certainty, is that as long we continue to find unique characters with compelling stories, reality television isn't going anywhere.