Master of Reality

by Daniel Manu April 29, 2008
The Jonathan Murray Interview

TWoP: Earlier seasons of The Real World were much more overtly focused on social issues and raising the consciousness of both the cast members and the audience. Now the show concentrates on personal issues and romantic relationships. Was this a natural evolution, or was it a deliberate creative decision on the production's part?

JM: I don't know... In the Denver season, which was fairly recently, we had them participating in Outward Bound, working with children from New Orleans. I will tell you that for those specific episodes, the ratings would plunge every time those came on. I will also tell you that our lowest-rated Road Rules season was the one where we did Semester at Sea. So I think that, for the most part, the audience wants to be entertained, and that has to be the first goal. If a pro-social aspect comes out of something a character is struggling with or dealing with, and we can handle it in a responsible manner, it can have a positive effect. But if you try to engineer it or stick something down people's throats, like Outward Bound, they tend not to want to watch it.

TWoP: When The Real World started, the Internet barely existed. Now, the vast majority of your target audience is online. How has getting immediate feedback about every single minute of every single episode helped you or informed you?

JM: I'm trying to remember the first season where we had the message boards on It was interesting because you'd be able to go on there and see what people were talking about in relation to the show, but I tried not to take it too seriously because I'm not sure how representative the Internet sampling is. You do tend to get people on there who like to go on and basically criticize the show, and tend to be more negative than maybe the typical viewer. Certainly the first few seasons we got a lot of letters from kids about the show, and they would write to specific cast members they identified with. Now, we have something called where, in addition to putting up new clips every day of stuff that happened, whether it ended up in the show or not, we also have cast members online responding to comments from the Internet audience. I always felt that one of the strengths of reality television is that the people in it are real, the stuff that happens to them is real, and therefore our audience often wants to ask those cast members questions about that real stuff that they went through. So certainly the Internet gives you a real opportunity for dialogue between them.

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