According to Etymonline the expression is from the early ‘90, but they add no details:

Reality television from 1991.

Reality television as a genre appears to date back at least to the ‘40s as suggested by Wikipedia :

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.

but it is not clear when the term reality was first used to refer to a TV show and which the show in question was.


When and for what show was “reality” first used for a TV program?

Was it a BrE or an AmE usage originally?

  • The first TV program you'd recognize as having the "reality tv" format (sexy young people, amateur actors, sleep-deprived, arguing with each other in close quarters) is The Real World, which dates from 1993. You might find the phrase "reality television" used earlier, but it couldn't have referred to this specific format until then.
    – user31341
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 2:04

2 Answers 2


The Oxford English Dictionary has examples earlier than the 90s.

Here's its earliest for "reality programming", from Public Opinion Quarterly (1962):

When the broadcaster presents fantasy, children attend by the millions, while parents and educators complain; when he presents reality programming, the critics applaud but few children..watch.

The OED also lists quotes for "reality show", the first of which doesn't refer to TV. Here's its second earliest, from the Washington Post (1977):

‘American Bandstand's 25th Anniversary’, a two-hour ABC special..[is] not a reality show. Nor is it a history of pop music—a rock ‘Roots’.

And here's its earliest for "reality television", from Newsweek (1978):

The pilot episode shows a Washington, D.C., surgeon treating two severely burned children (one of whom dies) and, later, playing poker and driving his Jeep. ‘This will be reality television’, promises NBC programing head Paul Klein. ‘No actors will ever be used.’


Reality-based attested from 1960. Reality television from 1991.

From etymonline.com

I suspect it was of AmE, but no documentation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.