Kids in the Real World

The current trend of reality television in U.S. primetime has taken everyone by surprise - everyone, that is, except kids' entertainment networks and producers of kids' programming. Long before Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Survivor, reality programming was a...
December 1, 2000

The current trend of reality television in U.S. primetime has taken everyone by surprise – everyone, that is, except kids’ entertainment networks and producers of kids’ programming. Long before Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Survivor, reality programming was a key component of kids’ television schedules, and it’s more popular today than ever. Here’s a look at the current crop of kids’ reality fare.

Discovery Kids

Blast Off is a one-hour docusoap coproduced by Discovery Kids, Discovery International and Brazil-based prodco Giros. The program centers on a multicultural delegation of 14 kids (ages 12 to 14) who compete to be mission-ready for flight to the International Space Station (though the kids are not really going to be shot beyond the Earth’s atmosphere).

Going for a Survivor-like feel, Blast Off features personal vignettes to support the coverage of the competition – from waking up and slamming down breakfast to more poignant asides about the kids’ hopes and fears. Two teams compete to become part of the Mission Ready One or Mission Ready Two delegations. While no one’s going to be kicked off the program (unlike Survivor), there is a competitive edge to see who is mission-ready first.

In the United States, Discovery Kids is both a weekend programming block on The Discovery Channel and its own 24-hour channel on digital cable and satellite.

The Disney Channel

While the Disney name is synonymous with kids’ fantasy, Disney has found success with kids’ reality.

Disney series Totally Circus takes one of kids’ most popular fantasies and presents the reality. Cameras follow 37 children selected by the real-life Circus Smirkus as they train in various circus-performance professions with the goal of putting on the greatest show on Earth.

Disney has also scheduled Totally Hoops for a January debut. Hoops follows the Lady Hoopstars, a group of 13-year-old basketball players, through their triumphs and tribulations as a team and off the court.


WAM!, a 24-hour commercial-free children’s channel from the Encore-Starz group, is dedicated to socially responsible programming. A year ago, WAM! launched Caught in the Middle, a series designed to follow real kids in middle school and high school situations. Shot on location in cinema-verité style, the show presents an intimate look at how ninth graders cope with the transition from middle school to high school.

Another short feature that debuted November 5 is Table Talk. It features real families and kids interacting at a dinner table, discussing issues of concern to kids.

Fox Family

Fox Family has two shows aimed at older kids and families that push the reality envelop to extremes. The Scariest Places On Earth, a mini-series that premiered October 23, challenges two families, on separate nights, to survive 24 hours in a haunted castle. Hosted by Linda Blair (of Exorcist fame), the two clans are whisked from their homes to northern England, with only the clothes on their backs and some Fox-supplied infrared ghost monitors. Fox Family received over 100,000 applications from families interested in taking the challenge.

Race Around The World pits two families in a globe-spanning race using every mode of transportation, a set amount of cash and 40 days to complete the task. (For news about this series see Upfront.)


Nickelodeon’s success with reality comes from its game shows – Guts, Figure It Out and Double Dare. In its latest incarnation, Double Dare 2000 is a fast-paced challenge combining trivia and wacky physical competition.

Nick’s most popular game is the block Slimetime Live, which airs each weekday afternoon. Kids can call in to choose a studio audience member to play for the home contestant. If he or she wins, both teammates are awarded a prize. If not, the in-studio partner is slimed.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.