'The Real World' turns 20

"The Real World: New York" premiered on May 21, 1992.

Story highlights

  • Having aired 532 episodes, "The Real World" celebrates its 20th anniversary this week
  • The September 2011 premiere of "The Real World: San Diego" drew nearly 2 million viewers
  • Co-creator: "(It) was definitely the first show to put people into a house to live together"
"The Real World" has now been on TV for longer than some of MTV's viewers have been alive.
Having aired 532 episodes filmed in 21 cities over 26 seasons, "The Real World" celebrates its 20th anniversary this week.
Despite being one of the longest-running reality programs on TV, it seems viewers still aren't sick of seeing "what happens ... when people stop being polite ... and start getting real."
The September 2011 premiere of the series' most recent season, "The Real World: San Diego," drew nearly 2 million viewers. Clocking in as the No. 1 original cable series of the night, the premiere marked the show's best debut in five seasons, according to TV by the Numbers.
But "The Real World's" cultural significance extends far beyond the number of people who tune in these days.
"'The Real World' was definitely the first show to put people into a house to live together," said Jonathan Murray, co-creator and executive producer of the series. It also introduced the "confessional" -- a room where cast members can go to speak directly into the camera and comment on their actions, Murray said.
CBS' "Big Brother," which began airing in the United States in 2000, borrowed "The Real World's" format, adding a competitive element.
Even MTV's shinier and newer reality program, "Jersey Shore," which attracted between 4 million and 7 million viewers throughout its fifth season, can attribute some of its success to the long-running series.
"We've seen certain shows like 'Newlyweds' or 'The Osbournes' or 'Jersey Shore' come along, and somehow, 'The Real World' keeps coming back while some of those other shows have their super bright nova in the sky," Murray said.
The show had somewhat humble beginnings. A 2007 USA Today story noted that MTV originally wanted the series to have a soap opera-feel. Then MTV chief Brian Graden told the publication that the show is "quite simply the undisputed granddaddy of modern, commercial reality television."
Murray says the same things that originally made the