Inside Books: Susan Murray on Reality TV

Susan Murray associate professor of media, culture, and communication, is the co-editor (with Laurie Ouellette) of Reality TV:  Remaking the Television Culture (NYU Press, 2009).  We recently spoke to her about the publication of a new version of her book.

How has reality TV remade television?

When we put together the first edition of this book, reality tv, in its most recent incarnation, was relatively new. We weren’t sure how long the trend would last but we did have an idea that it would remake the way that television was produced, financed, programmed and received. Over the past few years we have seen it do just that.

What changes in the production and reception of reality television influenced the new edition?

Since the publication of the first edition, reality television has virtually taken over network and cable programming schedules. In doing so, it has changed television’s construction of seasons, brought back product placement and sponsorship, resulted in a new reliance on the selling of formats (putting Europe at the center of that business) and introduced new forms of interactivity and marketing.

How do you conduct your research?

Since this is an anthology, there are a variety of methodological approaches contained in the book including: textual analysis, audience studies, cultural and industrial histories, political economy and genre studies. In terms of my own research for this book though, I compare the popular and industrial discourses around two programs which contain characteristics of both traditional documentary and reality TV in order to show how how aesthetic heirarchies, audience expectations, brand images and generic conventions play into the definitions of both genres.

What does reality television tell us about our culture?

Reality TV is a complicated genre in terms of how it engages and provokes certain aspects of our culture. The authors in our book explore in particular the ways it has altered our expectations for notions of reality, realism, and truth; teaches us how to be good citizens in an age of neoliberalism; mobilizes interest in and awareness of surveillance and voyeurism; and represents “ordinary” people.