TV producers don’t create new shows because they have a great new idea that they just have to get out to the viewing public. No, they create shows based on market research. In other words, they create shows based on what they think viewers like you want to watch. But how do they know what you’ll like. Have they ever called and asked you? If they did, I bet you probably have a great show idea that you could pitch them. But they never call because they’re not really interested in hearing what you have to say. They’re more interested in finding out about how you look and what you do. They want to know how you wear your hair, what your clothes look like, where you like to hang out, and what you do for fun. Why? So that they can turn it into a TV program. Just watch any reality show on TV that features teens and I am sure it will look familiar. Shows like The Real World, Surf Girls, Real Life and Who’s Got Game all feature teens that look just like you going about their business and doing the things they do while a video camera just happens to tape them. Jut like real life, but only captured on video, right? Wrong, there is nothing real or spontaneous about these shows. They are the result of many hours of market research and deliberate planning.

TV networks like MTV regularly send out video crews to observe teens in their natural environment. These TV crews follow teens around and document what they do throughout the course of a day. They also interview them on camera and ask them about what they like to do for fun, what they like to wear, what they like to buy, and what they want to do with their lives. The networks call these surveillance sessions “ethnography studies” and they use them to figure out what type of programs they will create for teens. Not surprisingly, the people and places in these show look suspiciously like the ones from the ethnography studies. They even go so far as to copy the handheld camcorder style familiar to anyone who ever videotaped their friends just hanging out. But don’t take it from me. Judge for yourself. To the right is an excerpt from a video called the Merchants of Cool that takes you along an MTV “ethnography study.” After you watch that you can watch some actual “ethnography studies” and footage from MTV reality programs. Compare them yourself and be the judge.

MTV study

MTV reality shows

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