Why Do We Love Reality TV But Avoid Documentary Movies?

Here’s a paradox for you. During any given week, about half of the top 20 most-watched TV shows are reality programs like Survivor or Hell’s Kitchen, or news shows like 60 Minutes. People love reality programs. Yet when it comes to reality movies — aka documentaries — the box office is tiny. Why do people love real life when it’s on TV but not when it’s in the movies?

This is an especially vexing question for the distributors trying to get people to watch widely acclaimed docs like the upcoming American Teen — one of the best movies of any kind that I’ve seen all year, and I’m certainly not the only one who feels that way. Once people see it, they’re bound to enjoy the drama, angst, and hilarity of Midwestern teenage life. But how do you get them into the theaters when they’re so used to skipping documentary fare? And why is skipping it the trend in the first place?

Let’s look at some possible explanations:

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