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To find the progenitor of today's reality TV, we need to look as far back as 1948, when Alan Funt began his classic show Candid Camera. This show created unreal situations and filmed the responses of ordinary people, often with hidden cameras. It was popular and ran for many years in one form or another.
Another step in the history of reality television came to the airwaves in 1973, in the form of a PBS documentary called An American Family. Audiences were shocked at the family's unscripted dramas -- the parents' decision to divorce and the coming-out of their gay son.
In the 1970s and 1980s, video equipment became more portable, and shows like Cops and America's Most Wanted took the audience out of the studio and into real locations to tell real stories. Cheap to produce, such shows quickly became a staple of television schedules.
In 1992, MTV took the idea a step further by creating an environment in which "reality" could happen. The Real World series, which brought together secret cameras, personal revelations, unscripted events and tight editing, appealed to voyeur-viewers and spawned a wide range of variations, from the highly popular (Survivor, The Osbournes) to the cheesy (The Swan, for instance, which presented cosmetic surgery as the solution to its "ugly" contestants' problems).