The huge ratings success this summer of Survivor, which dethroned Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in late June as the top-rated show on television, means such reality-based programs on major networks are here to stay, according to media scholars.

"Those people who don't like this trend had better fasten their seat belts," says communications professor Robert J. Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "We're going to see a lot more bizarre stuff. We'll look back a year from now and see Survivor and Big Brother as the classy and tame early period."

This new programming is a hybrid of television genres, such as the game show, reality-focused cable programming, and pseudo-sports competition. CBS bought the rights to the European programs, which both award a monetary prize to the winner. Survivor started with 16 castaways on an uninhabited island off Borneo, packaging their 39-day stay into 13 weekly one-hour episodes. On Big Brother, 10 individuals live in a specially constructed 1,800-square-foot home, deprived of contact with the outside world, for 100 days.Big Brother and Survivor reflect the ongoing decline in media morality, according to Stephen Winzenburg, communications professor at Grand View College in Des Moines. He says such shows can bring out the worst in human behavior: "Basically it's survival of the fittest, and people are treated as animals."Yet Thompson, who has taught classes about television for 19 years, says Survivor has done better than its critics predicted in capturing human drama. With strong characters, no drug use, infrequent profanity, and rare sexual situations, Survivor may be considered family viewing, Thompson contends. "The island environment ...

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Television: Is Reality Television Beyond Redemption?
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September 4, 2000

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