From the sea change in U.S. television in the 1980s emerged a programming trend variously described as "infotainment," "reality-based television," "tabloid TV," "crime-time television," "trash TV," and "on-scene shows."[open notes in new window] The welter of terms created by television critics to describe these new programs masked their underlying connection as a response to economic restructuring within the industry. This essay offers a rough categorization of these programs, sketches the industrial context from which they emerged, and points to the economic problems they were meant to solve. Although my focus here is on political economy, rather than on textual or audience issues, I do not want to imply that these programs' cultural significance can be reduced to their relations of production and distribution. Yet without understanding the political-economic forces which drove the spread of this genre, textual and audience studies risk reifying it as an expression of audience demand, or of their creators, or of a cultural, discursive, or ontological shift unrelated to the needs of those who run the television industry. If this genre exhibits a kind of textual excess, its emergence reflects a relative scarcity of means. I conclude with suggestions for how textual and audience studies might link the new "reality" of television to shifts in the larger U.S. political-economy since the mid-1980s.
Raphael, C. (1997). The political economy of Reali-TV. Jump Cut, 41, 102-109.