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The Reality TV Family Tree

Breaking down America's favorite television genre, in all its twisted glory


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.

"19 Kids and Counting":TLC; "Flavor of Love":WireImage; "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations": Travel Channel; Jon & Kate Plus 8":TLC; "Jersey Shore": MTV Networks; "Keeping up with the Kardashians": Dimitrios Kambouris/E! Entertainment; "The Voice": Trae Patton/NBC.