The 1973 PBS Documentary "An American Family" is often described as a precursor to modern reality television, which is fitting since the genre has come to resemble a family itself: multigeneratonal, competitive, filled with weirdos. Two relatively reality-free decades passed between the staid, observational PBS show and its surly spawn—the more manufactured, melodramatic MTV productions, "The Real World" and "Road Rules." They, in turn, kicked off the insane explosion of drunken, bug-eating, celebrity-fueled antics we see today. Herewith, a breakdown of television's reality-show landscape, in all its twisted glory.
Jessica Grose is a freelance writer and editor and author of the novel Sad Desk Salad.