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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.

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, broadcast interviews with a dozen ordinary 7-year-olds from a broad cross-section of society and inquired about their reactions to everyday life.

Every seven years, a film documented the life of the same individuals during the intervening period, titled the Up Series, episodes include "7 Plus Seven", "21 Up", etc.; it is still ongoing.

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.

Reality television has faced significant criticism since its rise in popularity.

Much of the criticism has centered on the use of the word "reality", and such shows' attempt to present themselves as a straightforward recounting of events that have occurred.

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Reality television is a genre of television programming that documents supposedly unscripted real-life situations, and often features an otherwise unknown cast of individuals who are typically not professional actors, although in some shows celebrities may participate.

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 12-part 1973 PBS series An American Family showed a nuclear family (filmed in 1971) going through a divorce; unlike many later reality shows, it was more or less documentary in purpose and style.

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