Why is reality television so unrealistic

How does "Scripted Reality" work?

"Big fat Melissa", the five boys sing in unison and bump into a young girl in their midst. She limps, wears a leg brace. An educator intervenes, the camera always with him: "Hey pantyhose, do you blow-dry yourself with a hammer?" "Do you think it's funny to kidnap someone with a disability ?." RTL shows everyday life at the comprehensive school in Wildbeck, where there are always outbreaks of violence, explains a voice from the off.

Also in the picture: arguing young people, a hand reaching into the camera. The committed educator is called Thorsten Heck, is a so-called school investigator and is on the road on behalf of the police to keep our schools in order. And: It is invented. Like the whole story. The attentive viewer can read in the opening credits "All the people involved are fictitious". This is shown for a few seconds before and after the broadcast

Everything looks real - everything is made up

Such programs are called scripted reality - written reality. Reports that look as if they are real, with the camera shaking and interviews separated. Sometimes people or license plates are even made unrecognizable, as if someone's personal rights had to be protected. But: All the characters are actors, who invent stories, they follow a script. The mixture of real representation and perfect dramaturgy currently gives private television the best ratings in the afternoon program. Such formats are called "Suspected Cases" (RTL) or "Families in Focus" (RTL) or "Die Schulermittler" (RTL).

The makers of scripted reality claim that the viewer recognizes what is real and what is not. The notice boards at the beginning and end of such programs would provide sufficient information. "You shouldn't underestimate the viewer," says Günter Stampf, successful producer of "Die Schulermittler". Are the hints displayed for a few seconds really enough? What if viewers zap into such formats? Do all viewers recognize the formats as played? And what are the effects?

Research institute surveys 1000 viewers

Critics consider such formats problematic. The viewer is being deceived. In a representative online survey, the market research institute Ipsos showed a total of 1000 viewers to a total of 1000 viewers from the scripted reality program "Die Schulermittler" - without indicating that the action was played. The test subjects saw the sequence as if they were switching to the program in the afternoon. Five statements were then asked about this. The test subjects were able to answer on a scale from 1 ("I totally agree") to 7 ("I totally disagree").

The first result: the section shown seems at least realistic. 49 percent agreed with the statement "Situations as shown in the article happen almost every day in German schools". 35 percent find the school investigators "behave credibly". Amazing: Although there are no school investigators like those shown in the RTL series, over 48 percent clearly agreed with the statement "You know that such school investigators are useful! There should be more of them". As a final question, we wanted to know whether the excerpt is considered real: Only 16 percent of those surveyed believed the excerpt shown was really real and not played for the camera. 45 percent recognized the scene as played.

A total of 39 percent remained undecided. However, it is methodologically difficult to ask the question of whether a program is really real, says communication scientist Prof. Hans-Jürgen Weiß: "The moment you ask: Is it real? Most people suspect that it is just not real is. "

"Credible", "Realistic", "Everyday"?

Prof. Weiß from the media research institute GöfaK - it analyzes the private broadcasters on behalf of the state media authorities - has analyzed the figures of the study for Panorama in more detail. He put the results into a causal relationship. So how does the assessment of the sequence as "real" or "credible" affect the audience's ideas and attitudes? "Some of the results are very clear," said Weiß. Those who consider the excerpt to be genuine are very inclined to believe that such situations happen "almost every day in German schools" and even more to the attitude that "there should be more such school investigators".

The connection between viewing habits and attitudes is very strong: If someone "likes" to watch such programs and considers them "credible", he tends to demand more such school investigators. The conclusion of Prof. Weiß: "The assessment of the action shown in a program as real (and not played) promotes the tendency to perceive and judge the world from the perspective of television reality."