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Real-Life Storytelling: The Threefold Formal Structure of Reality TV as a Procedure of Cumulative Serialization

Sub-Project 13

In contrast to purely fictional series, reality TV formats are characterized by a threefold formal structure. In addition to the dramaturgy of episodes and seasons, reality TV formats are determined by a third story line that refers to the allegedly unmediated reality of the protagonists' lives. Temporally, this third story line refers beyond the concrete media text – both into the past and into the future. On the basis of this third story line, one can read distinctive media texts as the realization of an overarching metatext.

The subproject investigates the forms and techniques of this threefold formal structure in its aesthetic and production-related significance for the storytelling of long running real-life soaps. Exemplary case studies are drawn from German docu-soaps, gamedocs, and casting shows, as well as their accompanying TV programs, producers' reports, and websites. Since reality TV – as a hybrid form – combines documentary, fictional, and ludic elements, it constantly generates interdependencies and feedback loops between the three story lines as well as between the authorship of editors/authors and protagonists. The subproject investigates these interdependencies with particular respect to their functions as formatting practices and strategies of distinction and one-upmanship.

Overall, the subproject seeks to arrive at a systematic theory of the conditions and forms of serial variation in reality TV and of the aesthetic and production-related parameters of reality TV's threefold formal structure. For this purpose, the project relies on the analysis of relevant case studies as well as narrative interviews with producers, editors, authors, directors, and protagonists.


Director: Dr. Christian Hißnauer, German Philology, Göttingen