History-Inspired Series
Reality Television

Reality Television with a Twist

In the world of television, if "The Bachelor" or "Fear Factor" isn't your cup of tea, we recommend several alternatives to "reality TV." Have you ever wished you could step back in time and experience the way people lived in your favorite era of history? Do you long for a slower pace of life where your family could live together on your own homestead and farm your own plot of land? Do you envision the sparkle of a magnificent chandelier in a Regency ballroom where Mr. Darcy might have first laid eyes on Elizabeth Bennet? Well, today's reality television has provided a way for you to experience life in another era. Several television networks in America, Canada and the United Kingdom have added their own creative spins on reality television by creating environments for individuals and families to experience what life was like in the past. So if you're ready to watch something other than bug-eating survival and dating shows, consider catching a few episodes of the following reality television shows that even history buffs can appreciate.


Colonial House (2004)

PBS' third attempt at recreating life in the past for modern individuals and families aired in 2004. In "Colonial House," two dozen modern-day time travelers discovered the hard way what early American colonial life was really like in the year 1628. The intrepid adventurers arrived in their New World on a period tall ship and struggled to create a functioning and profitable colony, like those of America's first settlers, using only the tools and technology of the era. Residing in a 17th-century environment cultivated from extensive research, the colonists negotiated personal and communal challenges as they dealt with the demoralizing weather, rustic living conditions and backbreaking labor. Among the points of dissension that arise in the colony were: the rigid class and gender roles, mandatory religious observance, and the puritanical civil laws of the era, particularly those pertaining to profanity. "Not only does 'Colonial House' capture the drama of everyday life in a small colony but it also shows how ordinary people cope -- or in many cases, don't cope -- when removed from all that is familiar and comforting to them in the modern world," said series producer Sallie Clement. "Our disparate group of colonists were catapulted into a life that demanded they set aside their many differences for the sake of survival."


Warrior Challenge (2003)

In 2003, PBS added its own spin on "Survivor" and "Fear Factor" type shows. A group of marines, U.S. Air Force personnel, riot police and athletes traveled back in time to live, train and fight as knights in a medieval castle, centurions along a Roman Empire outpost, Vikings and gladiators. Using period-authentic armor and weaponry, the volunteers participated in drills, stunts and tasks for the ultimate victory.


The Regency House Party (2003)

This series attempted to recreate Jane Austen's England, adding some of the elements of the popular dating reality television programs (think Mr. Darcy starring as "The Bachelor"). For three months, volunteers (predominantly single men and women under the age of 35) immersed themselves in the stately life of the Regency Era as well as pursued romantic endeavors as Jane Bennet or Emma Woodhouse might have enjoyed.


Frontier House (2002)

PBS debuted its second history-inspired reality television program in April, 2002. This time, three families were chosen to live on the Montana frontier as it would have appeared in 1883. The families soon learned how they would have fared as American pioneers without modern conveniences like electricity, shampoo and advanced medicine. Each family was assigned their own 160-acre plot of land on which they built their home, farmed crops, and experienced frontier life from Spring to the Fall of 2001. What resulted was a realistic look at one of the most romanticized periods of American history.


The Ship (2002)

In October, 2002, the History Channel in conjunction with the BBC aired its "history adventure reality series" that admittedly mixes "Frontier House" with a little "Survivor". Forty volunteers sailed from Australia aboard a replica of Captain James Cook's Endeavour, to experience six weeks on an 18th century sea voyage. (Captain Cook was the first European to reach Australia, and traveled that route in 1770 as part of a three-year voyage.) All of the volunteers lived and worked as 18th century sailors, but were not required to wear period costumes. "The Ship" had some modern conveniences: a satellite phone for emergencies, and a flush toilet in the lower deck for use while sailing in the Great Barrier Reef.


The Edwardian Country House (2002)

This series produced by the United Kingdom's Channel 4 featured nineteen volunteers who were divided into Edwardian classes, and found themselves all living under one roof (Manderston, an Edwardian palace in the Scottish Borders). Five of the volunteers were designated as a wealthy family while the remaining fourteen were trained to function as servants (reminiscent of "Upstairs Downstairs"). Besides living in a house with only the conveniences available during the turn of the century, both upper and lower class residents were required to observe the strict standards for social interaction during this time. The program was entitled "Manor House" for PBS viewers.


Klondike: The Quest for Gold (2002)

This series followed the 10-week experience of four men and one woman who retraced the historic route taken during the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush that turned a tiny miner's post into the "San Francisco of the North." These five modern Canadians were required to complete their journey with only resources available to pioneers at the turn of the century.


Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West (2001)

This series was a popular Canadian reality television show that chronicled the experience of two modern couples living as settlers in Canada's Manitoba prairie during the late 1800s. They experienced both the ups and downs of prairie life including illness, fatigue, mosquitos and snowstorms. The series finale featured a traditional Christmas celebration on the homestead, which garnered Canada's History Television channel's highest ratings for a documentary ever to air on a Canadian specialty network.


Quest for the Bay (2001)

This series chronicled the experience of eight modern-day Canadians who spent two months living as 19th century fur traders. They began their 1,225 kilometer journey in Winnipeg and completed their journey at York Factory, traveling on a traditional York boat built by 1840s standards. The entire trip took the crew across Manitoba's lakes and rivers traveling through dangerous rapids and over laborious portages.


1900 House (1999)

PBS' first experiment with historical "reality television" in 1999 took one modern family that was passionate about history and transplanted them into a Victorian townhouse in London, with only the conveniences and comforts afforded to middle-class Victorians in the year 1900. Although they always dreamed of living in the Victorian era, the family truly discovered after three months the harsh realities of Victorian life: living without computers, television, central heating or even electricity.