For MTV's 40th Birthday, A Big Dose of Reality

MTV: Music Television, a channel destined to change TV forever, launched 40 years ago this Sunday, Aug. 1, 1981.

Reporting on the network’s unveiling at that spring’s first-ever Cable TV Advertising Conference, I wrote in Marketing Communications magazine: “Even staid advertising executives were jolted to attention. Now, they knew for certain that television would never be the same again.”

I’d like to say I was an excellent prognosticator, but the truth is while my conclusion was correct, the means of getting there proved dead wrong.

Because it was nearly 11 years later, on May 21, 1992, when MTV truly kicked off a TV revolution with its debut of “The Real World.”

So let’s “stop being polite and start getting real.”

“The Real World” started a reality-show bandwagon that’s still rolling nonstop three decades later.



The latest wrinkle finds E.W. Scripps, Tegna and ViacomCBS quietly going after a viewing audience that may well have escaped your notice: 25-to 54-year-old fans of old reality shows.

A month ago, on July 1, Scripps launched two new 24/7 multicast channels: Defy TV and TrueReal. The first targets men, and the second women.

Defy TV offers nonstop reruns of shows such as "Swamp People,” "Counting Cars," "American Pickers,” "The Curse of Oak Island,” "Forged in Fire,” "Ax Men,” "Alone," "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and "Pawn Stars.”

TrueReal, announced originally in March,, includes “Storage Wars,” "Hoarders," "Little Women: LA," "Intervention," "I Survived," "Married at First Sight," "Little Women: Atlanta" and "Wahlburgers.”

TrueReal would seem to compete directly with Tegna’s Twist, which debuted April 5 and also targets 25-to 54-year-old females. Shows include “Clean House,” “Top Chef Masters,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Dance Moms,” “Tabatha Takes Over,” “Tiny House Nation” and “Flipping Out.”

However, ViacomCBS has yet to announce or even acknowledge its Fave TV multicast channel, although it’s been on the air since last December. Fave’s shows include “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team,”” Auction Hunters” and “Bar Rescue.”

Terence Henderson of T Dog Media reported the Scripps and Tegna channels have been fueled by “the availability of off-network reality cable series. Many of these shows aired originally on Bravo, History, the former Spike TV, etc. in the 2000s, when the genre was fairly new.”

If such off-cable reality series -- made possible in the first place because of their low production costs -- aren’t now costing Defy, True Real or Twist that much, they are still presumably spending way more than Fave TV, which draws its content from the libraries of ViacomCBS’ off-cable content.

Scripps says Defy TV and True Real are each reaching 92% of U.S. households, while over-the-air TV info site RabbitEars puts Twist’s reach at 69% and Fave TV’s at just 39%.

One show not running on Fave TV, although it’s definitely in the ViacomCBS library: “The Real World.”

Presumably, it’s just too popular to run on an over-the-air channel when its 614 episodes can still draw in viewers on and Paramount+. In fact, when the latter launched this past March 4, one of its few new series was a reunion go-round for the original 1991 “Real World” cast. 

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