Reality legal programming

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Reality legal programming (also known as reality legal program, reality legal show, legal reality show) is a television programming subgenre of reality television, focusing on reality-based subjects having to do with law, such as police, crime, litigation, etc. Subgenres of reality legal programming consist of a strict focus and come in all shapes and sizes from legal news programming and reality court shows to law enforcement documentaries and true crime shows. Prime examples of reality legal programs include Cops, Dateline NBC, Cold Case Files, etc. Many reality legal programs use elements from other television genres, such as documentaries, talk shows, news shows, caught-on-tape shows, etc.

TruTV, originally known as Court TV from its inception in 1991 until 2008, is a network that is practically dedicated to reality legal programs. While its focus has expanded in recent years since its renaming, the network is still largely concentrated in reality-based legal programming. A vast majority of reality legal shows are legal news programs, providing clips and details of highly publicized crimes with commentary from news anchors, political figures, law experts, and other guests to help viewers understand the nature of the crime and any legal proceedings involved. Some of the clips take viewers into the courtrooms as well.

Genre categories and TV show examples[edit]

Below is a list of the different categories of reality legal programs, along with a listing of TV programming examples that have been developed in each category.


Caught-on-tape/hidden camera series[edit]

True crime series[edit]

Police force television series[edit]

  • Over the Limit (TruTV, April 21–October 24, 2010)
  • Cops (Fox, Spike, March 11, 1989–present): Also a documentary
  • Bait Car (TruTV, August 6, 2007–October 23, 2012)
  • Police Women (TV Series) (August 6, 2009 – April 13, 2013)

Other reality legal shows[edit]

Comedy legal

talk show


Reality court shows

Another subgenre of reality legal shows are "reality court shows", which is a category of court shows that were next to nonexistent in the genre's first four decades. Originally, court shows were all dramatized, staged programs with actors playing the litigants, witnesses, lawyers, and sometimes the judges. Cases were either reenactments of actual real-life cases or altogether made up cases. Among examples of dramatized court shows include Famous Jury Trials, Your Witness, the first 2 runs of Divorce Court, etc. These types of court shows fall under legal dramas. The People's Court, however, revolutionized the court show genre by introdocing a reality show format, known as arbitration-based "reality", in 1981. This was later adopted by the vast majority of court shows. Not all court shows have used the arbitration-based reality format however. Some are unaffected realities that draw on footage from real-life trials in real-life courtrooms. Below is a list of the reality court shows that have been produced:

Legal reality networks[edit]

  • TruTV (1991–present) was originally known as Court TV until 2008. Traditionally, the network was dedicated solely to court and legal based shows, capturing live footage from actual homicidal trials, criminal justice programming, and reruns of such shows as NYPD Blue and Cops. However, since its "TruTV" revamping, the network has branched out into more "caught on video" reality programs.