cover image Cue the Sun! The Invention of Reality TV

Cue the Sun! The Invention of Reality TV

Emily Nussbaum. Random House, $30 (464p) ISBN 978-0-525-50899-1

In this boisterous chronicle, television critic Nussbaum (I Like to Watch) charts unscripted television’s evolution from Candid Camera’s 1948 premier through the first season of The Apprentice in 2003. Shedding light on the genre’s progenitors, Nussbaum argues that the cinema verité PBS documentary series An American Family (1973), which chronicled the foibles of an affluent California family of seven, established the reality soap opera format that MTV’s The Real World (1992–present) later popularized. Nussbaum profiles the “amateur sociologists, gleeful manipulators and shameless voyeurs” who pioneered the genre, describing The Newlywed Game creator Chuck Barris as a braggadocious P.T. Barnum–esque figure with a tenuous allegiance to truth (one of his memoirs implausibly claimed he’d been an assassin for the CIA). Detailed interviews with cast, crew, and producers provide juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits about the making of such shows as Big Brother, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Survivor, whose inaugural season almost collapsed amid allegations that a camera operator attempted to tip the competition by dropping a Clif Bar for a contestant to find. The most shocking stories reveal the ethically dubious strategies producers use to gin up drama. For instance, one Bachelor producer recalls needling a bachelorette about her eating disorder until she cried, and then editing the footage to “make her look like a hysterical stalker.” It’s a rowdy and unsettling look at how reality conquered television. (June)