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Reality TV. ‘Hard Knocks’ analysis


Television audiences are certainly aware of the ways television ‘puts reality together’, and talk about how various formats, or editing techniques, can create different degrees of ’reality in popular television. However, viewers of reality programming are most likely to talk about the truth of what they are seeing about the way real people act in front of television cameras. Reality TV selected for analysis is Hard Knocks, a reality sports program. HBO defines this reality TV series as sports documentary television.

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Television audiences

Television audiences are highly skeptical of the truth claims of much reality programming precisely because they expect people to ‘act up’ to make entertaining factual television. It is possible to say that this program displays the same use of surveillance and therapy that Pietro and Otter find in The Osbournes. Similar to this program, Hard Knocks depicts a more “realistic” portrayal of players and coaches. Reality programming directs viewers to its television images of reality to draw attention to the evidential powers of on-scene reality footage. Viewers trust the type of on-scene footage or surveillance footage. The more ordinary people are perceived to perform for the cameras, the less real the program appears to be to viewers. Thus, performance becomes a powerful framing device for judging reality TV”s claims to the real. Similar to The Osbournes, Hard Knocks “do not document or observe an independent reality through a camera, as documentary films purport to do” (Pietro and Otter n.d.).

Audiences place a great deal of trust in the ability of television cameras to capture real events as they happen. Audience trust in the authenticity of reality television is complex and dependent on how each reality format is set up to capture the stories of everyday people. Hard Knocks audiences are likely to distrust visual evidence in reality programming. The main similarity is that surveillance in Hard Knocks “penetrate to the interior of the participant” (Pietro and Otter n.d.). When viewers come to watch reality TV these expectations do not disappear. Viewers are most likely to trust in the evidential power of Hard Knocks when the factual footage is closest to footage viewers associate with the news. Thus, the common viewing position when watching Hard Knocks is critical of the evidential claims of the programs.

The functions of television

Factual television is a primary vehicle for witnessing the world, and news bulletins, and crime and emergency services reality programming, offer an opportunity to witness events as they happen. Following Pietro and Otter: ‘Surveillance must penetrate the exterior behavior of subjects and reveal the contents of their consciousness, and conscience” (Pietro and Otter n.d.). The stories are dramatized, they are reconstructed, but they make direct claims to journalistic inquiry, even to the extent of using newsreaders as presenters of the programs. The Osbournes, Hard Knocks proposes factual television’s ability to witness the world: audiences come to question the genre and judge it about other factual genres. Viewers expect particular types of factual television to offer them visual evidence of real life. About popular factual television, the audience trusts the honesty of the situations portrayed. It is possible to say that Hard Knocks programming is perceived as more authentic than other, types, but also that infotainment shows are thought to be more accurate than television documentaries. The therapy is achieved through a mode of engagement, then this engagement is characterized by a contradictory response that is based on trust in the truth claims of documentary, and criticism of these truth claims. This model has implications for a real mode of engagement. A reality mode of engagement is characterized by a contradictory response that is based on audience assessment of the authenticity of real people’s stories and situations within the performative environment of popular factual television. This mode of engagement involves criticism of the truth claims of reality programming, but also some degree of trust in the adage ‘truth will out. The reality format of Hard Knocks can be understood in terms of the tensions and contradictions between the performance of non-professional actors, and their authentic behavior. In terms of television audiences, there is evidence to suggest that the improvised performances of ordinary people frame this format, The performance of contestants gives television audiences the opportunity for thick judgment around participants’ motives and actions.

The therapeutic effects

The therapeutic effects can be explained by the ability to help people cope with their problems and troubles. Similar to The Osbournes, Hard Knocks has a certain control over overproduction. Hard Knocks can also be described as a ‘performative documentary’. It blurs boundaries between fact and fiction. Audiences have a high degree of cynicism regarding the portrayal of real people. People’s reactions are natural. The only way ordinary people will be themselves on television is if they don’t know they’re on television in the first place. There is also a general assumption that if people could ‘be themselves’ twenty-four hours a day of TV, then this would not make for very exciting television.


Maasik, S., Solomon, J. Signs of life in the USA, fifth edition.

Pieto, R., Otter, K. The Osbournes. N.d. Web.

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