I'll go on record here as saying that I'm not much of a fan of 'reality television'. In some cases, I have to ask if the term, 'reality show' is really warranted. For instance, do you really think that none of the 'interviews' where one designer (Project Runway), chef (Hell's Kitchen) or castaway (Survivor) talks smack about another person aren't 'prodded' in some way? For instance, all the fights that break out randomly on Jerry Springer or Maury Povich probably look fake because they-or at least some of them-are fake. Either that, or exaggerated for the benefit of the audience. There's no real reason I can think of that a reality show producer couldn't do the same thing if they wanted. Also, all TV shows (except maybe live morning or late-night shows) do some sort of editing to make things more streamlined and interesting. It's not hard at all for producers to take snippets of film and put them together to give off the image they're going for.
That being said, there are some reality-based shows I've found that are at least based on decent premises.
-Wife Swap. This show, first on ABC but now in re-runs on the Lifetime network, attempts to answer the age-old question of whether the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. They will take two families-usually from completely different socio-economic backgrounds or lifestyles-and 'swap wives' for two weeks. The wives/mothers stay with the other family for two weeks and basically live the other woman's life. For one week, she goes by 'their rules', then the tables turn. There have been some really interesting pairings-a self-obsessed Beverly Hills housewife and a rustic farm family; a vegan and a down-home Cajun family; a former drill sergeant with a family of free-spirited fantasy role-players. Sometimes the two families turn out to be friends, but there have been a couple of times where an actual fight has broken out across the table when the couples meet. Whatever happens, it is a lot of fun to see how people who are different from us live.
-The Biggest Loser. This NBC show is much more positive than its name would suggest. A group of obese people come to a ranch where they are put to work on losing their excess weight. Like other reality shows, the group is pared down over a period of weeks as they lose weight and learn a healthier regimen. The title 'Biggest Loser' refers to the person who has lost the most weight over the 'contest' period. It doesn't much matter who makes it to the end, though, because everyone benefits. While it can be difficult to stay on the regimen while in 'the real world', the show gives the contestants a head start to a healthier life. You can't get much more positive than that.
-Talent showcases. There are so many of them out there now, each one with a different focus. For instance, viewers of Dancing With The Stars get to see professional dancers teach celebrities how to dance and compete for a prize. The Voice has various people in the music industry judge a progression of singers, with the twist that they can't see the singer and must judge only on their voices. And, of course, there's American Idol where we see previously-unknown singers compete for a record contract. While some winners (Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood) have had more success than others, at least they get a start. They get a start, and we get to see some amazing performances. Win-Win.
As you can see, there are quite a few reality shows out there that aren't the 'trash' some people consider that genre to be. Don't get me wrong-there are still plenty of shows featuring annoying quasi-celebrities and aging musicians trying to 'find love'. It's just interesting to see that this wildly popular genre of television has a few decent shows that you don't mind watching with your kids.