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It differs from documentary television in that the focus tends to be on drama, personal conflict, and entertainment rather than educating viewers. The genre has various standard tropes, including "confessionals" (also called talking heads or interview segments) used by cast members to express their thoughts, which often double as the shows' narration.
In competition-based reality shows, a notable subset, there are other common elements such as one participant being eliminated per episode, a panel of judges, and the concept of "immunity from elimination." An early example of the genre was the 1991 Dutch series Nummer 28, which was the first show to bring together strangers and record their interactions.
, broadcast interviews with a dozen ordinary 7-year-olds from a broad cross-section of society and inquired about their reactions to everyday life.
Every seven years, a film documented the life of the same individuals during the intervening period, titled the Up Series, episodes include "7 Plus Seven", "21 Up", etc.; it is still ongoing.
There are grey areas around what is classified as reality television.The first reality show in the modern sense may have been the series The American Sportsman, which ran from 1965 to 1986 on ABC in the United States.A typical episode featured one or more celebrities, and sometimes their family members, being accompanied by a camera crew on an outdoor adventure, such as hunting, fishing, hiking, scuba diving, rock climbing, wildlife photography, horseback riding, race car driving, and the like, with most of the resulting action and dialogue being unscripted, except for the narration.The 12-part 1973 PBS series An American Family showed a nuclear family (filmed in 1971) going through a divorce; unlike many later reality shows, it was more or less documentary in purpose and style.In 1974 a counterpart program, The Family, was made in the UK, following the working class Wilkins family of Reading.
In 1948, talent search shows Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts featured amateur competitors and audience voting.