How realistic is reality television

Scripted Reality: More Real Than Reality?

TV formats that seem to be taken from the middle of life are now a dime a dozen. Recently, one term has appeared more and more frequently in newspaper articles, in discussion groups and also in program magazines in connection with such programs: "Scripted Reality" - that is, "script-written reality".

What all scripted reality programs have in common: their sequence is pretty much fixed before shooting begins. Nevertheless, the action presented should appear as "real" and documentary as possible. The viewer should get the impression of experiencing a true incident that is being observed and recorded by the camera. In fact, the scenes are set and are re-enacted. Examples of scripted reality programs are "The Trovatos - detectives uncover", "Fraud cases", "Suspected cases" (all from RTL), "K11 - commissioners in action" (Sat.1), "private detectives in action" and " Berlin - Day and Night "(both from RTL2). There are roughly two directions in scripted reality formats: on the one hand real people play themselves, on the other hand more or less true stories are recreated by amateur actors.

People play themselves - according to instructions

In this direction, real people are filmed doing something they - at least roughly - have experienced. The exact course of the story is not determined by reality, but by the editorial team. How it works? Quite simply: a true story is told in a script in such a way that it becomes more interesting, fun or exciting. It can also happen that the story has a completely different ending. The difference is often not even noticeable to the viewer.

Often, like actors, people receive stage directions during the shoot - for example, that they should now argue. The texts are usually already given. Anyone who pays attention as a viewer will discover many scenes in which the people don't really argue, but simply recite their text.

But the whole thing should look as real as possible and just not posed. That's why the makers try to elicit "real" feelings from people in front of the camera. This can go so far that the stage directions become provocations that lead to people actually arguing in front of the camera, attacking each other, bursting into tears or breaking down.

Amateur actors act out "true stories"

In the second variant of scripted reality, amateur actors play according to a given script. The script may be based on actual events, but the actors never experienced the situation themselves. One of the few series that points to their made-up elements and amateur actors is "Auf Streife". It says in the credits: "This is where real police officers act. The content is freely told after real operations." The wording leaves open how much of the real story is really left and how much is fictitious.

The amateur actors are often cast in such a way that they fit their role exactly and can draw on their own wealth of experience: Then, for example, a pregnant 16-year-old actually plays a minor who has become pregnant. The intention behind it is clear: the actress can play her role as believably and convincingly as possible, because she is in a similar situation in real life.

More and more mixed forms

Sometimes both directions mix: There are series in which amateur actors and "real" people appear together. "Judge Alexander Hold" for example is called exactly that and is also a judge in real life. In other court shows, real court cases were also initially heard with real victims. Non-professional actors now play many roles, such as the defendants and the witnesses.

There are also mixed answers to the question: fictional or real occurrence? Sometimes it can happen that in the same series some episodes are completely made up, while others are based on real events. The made-up stories, with their stranger and quirkier themes, seem to be much more popular with audiences. So that the invented stories "come across" as realistically as possible, certain cinematic means are used.

This is how it looks real

Extra shaky handheld camera recordings, for example, appear as if someone happened to be recording the action - although a professional camera team is actually behind the shaky images. Filming locations in private apartments or offices provide the additional "reality bonus". The voiceover on the "private detectives in action" is also intended to convey to the audience that the detectives are being called to a location virtually live about a current case.

In the series "K11 - Commissioners in action" there are always text overlays, such as "Monday 6:44 pm, crime scene: tenement". The exact time and place information should give the impression that the events at that moment took place in front of the camera.

A lot of film for little money

One reason why the scripted reality formats are becoming increasingly popular with broadcasters: Their production is particularly inexpensive. The individual episodes are always structured and produced according to the same knitting pattern - film as an assembly line work. The filming locations often stay the same: court shows can always be filmed in the same courtroom, no sets have to be changed and even the choice of costumes is limited. Every story - whether invented or from real life - is adapted so that it fits into the format of the program. The makers save so much time when shooting, because nothing unforeseen can happen. The amateur actors are of course much cheaper compared to real actors.


The often discussed problem with scripted reality formats is that the boundaries between reality and fiction are constantly blending. These formats only pretend to tell stories that actually happened, but they are made up. Notes that make this clear are easy to overlook - for example, briefly in the credits at the end of the program.

The uncertainty of many viewers can be read, for example, in Internet forums. The question arises again and again whether certain series are now acted out or not. And even if the audience knows that the events they are seeing are not real, they may think: "It is not real, but it could have happened just like that."