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Television formats portraying ordinary people in unscripted situations are almost as old as the television medium itself.Producer-host Allen Funt's Candid Camera, in which unsuspecting people were confronted with funny, unusual situations and filmed with hidden cameras, first aired in 1948, and is often seen as a prototype of reality television programming.The first reality show in the modern sense may have been the series The American Sportsman, which ran from 1965 to 1986 on ABC in the United States.A typical episode featured one or more celebrities, and sometimes their family members, being accompanied by a camera crew on an outdoor adventure, such as hunting, fishing, hiking, scuba diving, rock climbing, wildlife photography, horseback riding, race car driving, and the like, with most of the resulting action and dialogue being unscripted, except for the narration.These shows and a number of others (usually also competition-based) became global franchises, spawning local versions in dozens of countries.Reality television as a whole has become a fixture of television programming.The series You Asked for It (1950–1959) incorporated audience involvement by basing episodes around requests sent in by postcard from viewers.

The series is credited with starting the career of Sheena Easton, who was selected to appear in the episode showing an aspiring pop singer trying to enter the music business.It differs from documentary television in that the focus tends to be on drama, personal conflict, and entertainment rather than educating viewers. The genre has various standard tropes, including "confessionals" (also called talking heads or interview segments) used by cast members to express their thoughts, which often double as the shows' narration.In competition-based reality shows, a notable subset, there are other common elements, such as one participant being eliminated per episode, a panel of judges, and the concept of "immunity from elimination." An early example of the genre was the 1991 Dutch series Nummer 28, which was the first show to bring together strangers and record their interactions.In 1974 a counterpart program, The Family, was made in the UK, following the working class Wilkins family of Reading.Other forerunners of modern reality television were the 1970s productions of Chuck Barris: The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show, all of which featured participants who were eager to sacrifice some of their privacy and dignity in a televised competition.

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