Reality television has become an integral part of Western pop culture whether or not you like it – and there are a million reasons you shouldn’t. Many of these shows highlight the glamorous lives of the outrageously wealthy, or the over-dramatized dysfunctions of the most banal D-list celebrities. For such a popular genre of television, many real-life topics pertinent to, you know, reality, are left by the wayside. Where are the shows that engage viewers about issues affecting us all, like the struggling health of our environment? For years, various television networks have tried to create successful “eco” reality programming, but none have been successful enough to make it past the first few seasons.
The Lazy Environmentalist was a 2009 program that followed my good friend, Josh Dorfman, creator of sustainable furniture store Vivavi, who traveled around the country showing people easy, cheap ways to make their lives greener. His approach was simple: relate to the everyday viewer who thinks he or she doesn’t have the time to be eco-friendly. Despite his simple approach, the show was canceled after two seasons and ended its run in 2010.
Many of you ought to be very familiar with the channel Planet Green, which featured 24-hour programming exclusively focused on ecology, green issues and the environment. Wa$ted, a reality series that began broadcasting on the channel in 2008, followed hosts Annabelle Gurwitch and Holter Graham as they toured the nation, confronting average households about their long-term impacts on the planet. The series had a similar approach to The Lazy Environmentalist, in that they would attempt to connect with the regular viewer by showing how even the smallest green changes can make a difference. Despite the opportunity that Wa$ted and the other eco-reality shows had to gain an audience, Planet Green was ultimately remade from the ground up in 2012 into Destination America.
These pitfalls suggest that the networks, channels and reality shows themselves have failed to excite viewers. What will it take to finally engage them about environmental issues in the same ways they are engaged about the inner-workings of some celebrity’s mundane life? To start, it might require selecting the right audience.
Pivot TV, a channel that specifically targets socially conscious millennials, focuses on programming that hopes to initiate discussions about urgent social and political issues applicable to all of us, including the environment. While there is obviously no absolute formula for success, a new reality TV series from TerraCycle and Pivot called “Human Resources” will hopefully be a step in the right direction. Premiering today, August 8th at 10pm ET/PT, we hope that the new series will redefine what “green reality TV” really means. The series follows the TerraCycle team as we work day-by-day to recycle and discover new solutions for the waste we are all responsible for generating. Human Resources won’t just show what goes on in the office behind closed doors; it will educate viewers on the ins-and-outs of upcycling, proper recycling techniques, and will offer various PSA’s and calls to action to engage socially conscious viewers into getting up and making a difference.
Plus, it’s more than just a show about recycling – it actually presents an opportunity to recycle! Viewers can go to takepart.com/humanresources and download free shipping slips to send their waste to TerraCycle, all at no cost. Or they can request standardized recycling labels from our nonprofit partner, Recycle Across America, who will also earn 2 cents for every piece of waste viewers send to TerraCycle.
Eco-reality shows have seen their fair share of losses in the reality arena, which is a shame because of how wildly popular and powerful of a platform it could be for the movement. But as the premiere for Human Resources fast approaches, we hope that it will lead to environmentally focused reality programming becoming more widely accepted by reality show audiences. Do we really need to see yet another “Housewives of Whatever” iteration, anyway?