It’s easy to think that reality TV was invented in the ’90s and ’00s. After all, there was a huge explosion of reality and game-based shows during those two decades. But without these original reality TV shows, we would never have had any of the unbelievable series we loved so much growing up.
The Dating Game – USA, 1965
The first dating reality TV show aired in the ’60s! The original dating game show was far more tame than the dating shows we know and love today.
It featured a bachelor or bachelorette who was hidden from a trio of eligible women or men, and the star chose which contestant to date based on their answers to some pretty racy questions.
Without the light-hearted The Dating Game, we would never have had Blind Date, ElimiDate, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Flava of Love, or any of their spinoffs.
An American Family – USA, 1973
The first reality TV show as we would recognize it originally aired in 1973! An American Family tracked a real-life nuclear family as it experienced the divorce that would change its dynamics forever.
Though it was filmed in more of a documentary style than a dramatic one, An American Family clearly paved the way for shows like Supernanny, Hogan Knows Best, Sister Wives, Jon and Kate Plus 8, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, just to name a few, that focused on the inner workings of family (and celebrity family) life.
Cops – USA, 1989
Although America’s Most Wanted kicked off the trend one year earlier, we’ll always think of Copsas the original crime reality show. And why wouldn’t we? The show is still airing 32 seasons later!
Shows like Cops made way for reality TV shows like World’s Wildest Police Videos, Rescue 911, and Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Nummer 28 – Netherlands, 1991
Your favourite “ensemble cast” reality TV shows of the ’90s and ’00s were actually inspired by a Dutch TV show! Nummer 28 was the first show based on seeing what would happen if a group of strangers were placed in a house together and left (mostly) to their own devices.
One year later, MTV replicated the formula with The Real World. And we filled our popcorn bowls week after week for shows like Big Brother, Jersey Shore, and many others inspired by bringing strangers together to form alliances and oppositions, and give backstage “confessionals” for our viewing pleasure.
Expedition Robinson – Sweden, 1997
It might surprise you that the first competition and elimination show actually aired in Sweden in 1997.
Expedition Robinson initiated the huge boom in ensemble contest shows in North America in the 2000s with concepts like Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Apprentice, The Mole, Top Chef, America’s Next Top Model and many more that rely on contestant challenges that require the judges to eliminate a player each week.
Changing Rooms – USA, 1996
The first home improvement show to hit the airwaves jumpstarted one of the most watched categories of reality TV shows in history. Who doesn’t want to imagine a complete home reno without any of the mess or expense?
Changing Rooms soon gave way to shows like Trading Spaces, Design on a Dime, Extreme Home Makeover, Love It or List It, and Property Brothers.
What Not to Wear – United Kingdom, 2001
If you’re familiar with Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, it’s only because Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine blazed the trail with the original What Not to Wear series in the UK.
Because of What Not to Wear, we’ve had decades of makeover show madness, including Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (original and current), Extreme Makeover, Style by Jury, How to Look Good Naked … and so many more!