Reality TV pioneer 'The Real World' reunites original cast

Advertising

New York (AFP)

Widely considered the first major reality television program, MTV's "The Real World" is set to return nearly 30 years after its debut -- with seven members of the original cast appearing in the same New York loft where they first gathered in 1992.

The reunion series is set to premier Thursday on the new streaming platform Paramount+, from ViacomCBS.

While several networks had dipped their toes in the reality television waters before 1992, none of the efforts resonated quite like "The Real World," which helped keep its US channel -- which had been launched to play music videos -- relevant to young audiences in the '90s.

The show's popularity caught the eyes of advertisers and in turn producers and other broadcasters, who then went on to replicate the formula ad infinitum into the new millennium.

The program's conceit saw seven young strangers -- age 19 to 26 -- live together for three months in a huge loft in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood, all the while being filmed.

The format -- in which participants famously "stop being polite and start getting real" -- remains a reality TV classic.

"The Real World"'s return will revisit that setup as a window into real life -- a moment of authenticity when the vast majority of television offered more contrived options.

And it offers a reminder of the gap between television then and television as it exists today, in which excess has prevailed above all else.

- 'Almost too pure' -

The reunion reminds watchers what the reality genre is missing today from its early iterations, when "The Real World" presented cast members as regular young people -- well-intentioned, idealistic and sometimes naive.

"It was the first time outside of coverage of the Civil Rights Movement... we actually had a TV show where Black people and white people were having really intense conversations about race and racism," "The Real World" participant Kevin Powell, who is Black, says at the beginning of the new season.

"When we got into arguments, they were debates," Rebecca "Becky" Blasband says. "That's different than a fight where two people can't hear each other, at all."

And this new edition is able to offer even more of that kind of calm discussion -- rare in an America polarized to the extreme -- as the participants have come to have affection and respect for one another three decades after the original broadcast.

Maturity helps, too -- the cast are now in their forties and fifties, instead of teenagers and 20-somethings.

"I'm not sure we could sell it today," the show's co-creator Jonathan Murray told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012.

"It's almost too pure, and it doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles," he said.

"Today you start with a 'Real World' idea of either putting people in a house, then you have to add the additional elements... to make it loud enough to capture people's attention."