Reality TV in the UK: The inescapable phenomenon

Blog > What to watch
20 Jun • 6 min read

Love it or hate it

Even if you’re not a fan, there’s no getting away from the fact that the best reality shows split opinion - and that’s putting it mildly. Some of the most divisive and controversial figures from our TV screens over the years were born out of memorable reality moments. We all remember ‘Nasty Nick’ don’t we?

So we’ve put together a definitive selection of our favourite shows, characters and moments from the last three decades all conveniently available on Freeview Play or On Demand, so let’s take a look:

Harsh reality

Our favourite reality shows would be nothing without the larger-than-life characters that make them. Despite an influx of celebs dipping their toes into the world of reality - nothing beats us “normal” folk getting a run in the spotlight.

We can’t talk about the weird and wonderful world of reality without mentioning one man's name. Simon Cowell. Whether it's Pop Idol, The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent - Cowell himself is simply synonymous with British telly over the last 25 years. His ear for a hit, as well as his sharp tongue and eye for a star has all meant that the Pop mogul has been able to churn out superstar after superstar.

The X Factor might have come to an end back in 2018 but rest assured T3•R customers, you can still relive classic moments on the show’s official Youtube Channel. Not to mention that we’ve just welcomed a season of BGT onto our screens for a 15th series on ITV and those of you that have already been tuning in will know that this season has been as entertaining and controversial as ever before.

Love is on the air

Dating can be a daunting prospect, especially when it’s done in front of the nation. That said, there’s no doubt that it often makes for brilliant television. Over the years, the reality TV powers-that-be have really thought outside of the box when it comes to creating compelling on-screen love stories. Whilst Love Island has come under scrutiny recently both in terms of idea and execution, shows such as First Dates and Undateables have highlighted a more wholesome element of dating.

Let’s take First Dates as an example, what a brilliantly simple and more importantly, hugely successful premise. We rewatched the pilot episode recently and while it’s safe to say the show has come on leaps and bounds since its original inception - the genius was clear to see from the off. If you'd like to watch the episode then don't get caught out by the All 4 App going missing. It's had a fresh lick of paint and been given the new name... "Channel 4", not at all confusing!

The blend between awkward car crash situations and watching two people’s spark blossom is just perfect. Not to mention the relationships we’ve built with Maître d’ Fred Sirieix, as well as the regular waiting staff. We’ve even been treated to a spin-off or two, with First Dates Hotel and Teen First Dates taking off even more recently.

A moment like this

It really has been a case of “the good, the bad and the ugly” over the years when it comes to reality shows. From world famous talents being discovered, to hundreds of eye-wateringly funny one-off moments, to a host of unsavoury scenes that have left shows clouded in controversy. There’s very little we haven’t already seen at this point.

Pop culture mainstays have quite literally been born out of a throwaway one-liner - that’s the influence reality TV has had over us over the last three decades. You may not have seen the full episode, or even know exactly which show it's from, but almost all of us recognise the instantly iconic “what a sad little life Jane” from Come Dine With Me’s Peter Marsh back in 2016. Simply put, the moment has transcended the show, with the line becoming iconic as a result.

From the instantly recognisable to the downright unforgettable. How could we forget to mention DJ Kev and his unorthodox way of tasting his dessert by shoving a whole whisk into his mouth before putting it straight back into the cake mix…

On that note, that’s our breakdown of the iconic shows, characters and moments that have blessed our screens since the early noughties. What do you think about our choices? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.