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The 12-part 1973 PBS series An American Family showed a nuclear family (filmed in 1971) going through a divorce; unlike many later reality shows, it was more or less documentary in purpose and style.

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Documentaries, television news, sports television, talk shows, and traditional game shows are generally not classified as reality television.

Some genres of television programming that predate the reality television boom have been retroactively classified as reality television, including hidden camera shows, talent-search shows, documentary series about ordinary people, high-concept game shows, home improvement shows, and court shows featuring real-life cases.

Television formats portraying ordinary people in unscripted situations are almost as old as the television medium itself.

Producer-host Allen Funt's Candid Camera, in which unsuspecting people were confronted with funny, unusual situations and filmed with hidden cameras, first aired in 1948.

Queen for a Day (1945–1964) was an early example of reality-based television.

The 1946 television game show Cash and Carry sometimes featured contestants performing stunts.First broadcast in the United Kingdom in 1964, the Granada Television documentary Seven Up!broadcast interviews with a dozen ordinary 7-year-olds from a broad cross-section of society and inquired about their reactions to everyday life.The program was structured as a series of interviews with no element of plot.By virtue of the attention paid to the participants, it effectively turned ordinary people into a type of celebrities, especially after they became adults.The radio series Nightwatch (1951–1955) tape-recorded the daily activities of Culver City, California police officers.

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