The List July/August 2005

Local Realities

This past spring Fox Cable Networks announced the debut of Fox Reality—a television network with a mission to provide reality programming twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to more than six million American homes. Fox Reality is no pioneer: it is the third all-reality channel either in the works or already available in the United States, following Reality 24-7 and Reality TV.

But reality TV, of course, is not an exclusively American phenomenon. India and other parts of Asia have had 24/7 access to it since 2003, and homegrown reality shows—often distinctly local in flavor—have become popular around the world. Here are five recent shows.

1. Human Resources (Argentina): Two unemployed contestants compete in a series of interviews and tests before facing the viewers, who choose between them. The winner receives a blue-collar job; the runner-up gets six months of health insurance.

2. Terrorism in the Grip of Justice (Iraq): Imprisoned terrorist suspects confess to the camera, discuss their motives (usually financial), and sometimes face the families of their victims. The show airs six nights a week on a state-run network.

3. Sperm Race (Germany): Samples of the contestants' frozen sperm are sent to a studio in Cologne, where they are placed in a petri dish and raced toward an egg. The winner receives a red Porsche and the title "Germany's Most Virile Man." "Sperm Race is serious," Boris Brandt, the show's producer, told a German newspaper. "Fertility is a big thing in Germany."

4. The Ambassador (Israel): Fourteen young Israelis compete to bolster Israel's international image. Challenges include defending Israel at Cambridge University and selling Israeli vacation packages in Paris. The last attaché standing receives a one-year job as a spokesperson for Israel with a PR firm in New York.

5. Spets (Russia): Produced by the real-life mobster Vitali "Spets" Dyomochka, who was irked by TV depictions of organized crime in Russia, the seven-part series portrays mafia life in Ussurisk, a city near Vladivostok. The gangsters play themselves.

Presented by

Abigail Cutler is a staff editor at The Atlantic.

 Marshall Poe is a writer and historian. He is the editor in chief of the New Books Network.

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