Children, there was a time before “reality TV’ took over TV. The genre really got rolling — decades after PBS’s “An American Family” — when MTV’s “The Real World” began, in May 1992, as something of an experiment. Seven young people were stuffed into a loft in SoHo, filmed all the time, and then edited down into a nonfiction soap opera of sorts.
It was a bit interesting, at first, to see how the strangers behaved, thrown together under a microscope. Issues of diversity and sexuality emerged in what seemed like relatively natural ways. But the show quickly became a self-conscious mixture of attention-grabbing, partying, auditioning for other TV gigs, and acting out pre-planned character arcs. As with the more obviously fake likes of “The Bachelor” and the “Real Housewives” shows, which came in the wake of “The Real World,” the producers began to aggressively craft narratives, stage situations, and edit out truths. The title “the real world” — never exactly an accurate title, since the young ‘uns were housed in lavish places — became fully ironic.
The series peaked creatively at season three (San Francisco) in 1994. But it has continued on for a total of 33 seasons, in a world transformed and disfigured to some extent by the genre it helped to pioneer.
On Thursday, Paramount+ (the new, expanded, rebranded version of CBS All Access) is returning to the show’s origins with “The Real World Homecoming: New York.” It will bring back the same seven people from the first season of the show — Kevin Powell, Julie Gentry, Andre Comeau, Heather B. Gardner, Norman Korpi, Becky Blasband, and Eric Nies. Once again, they will stay in the New York loft (at 565 Broadway) where they first lived together (Nies will appear by video only). They are no longer strangers and they are much older now, presumably with fewer illusions. They’ve looked at fame from both sides now.