Cue the Sun!

Cue the Sun!

The Invention of Reality TV

About the Book

The rollicking saga of reality television—an ambitious cultural history of America’s most influential, most divisive artistic phenomenon, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning New Yorker writer

“Written with a storyteller’s verve, a journalist’s skepticism, a critic’s astuteness, and a fan’s loving eye.”—Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Who invented reality television, the world’s most dangerous pop-culture genre? And why can’t we look away? In this revelatory, deeply reported account of the rise of “dirty documentary”—from its contentious roots in radio to the ascent of Donald Trump—Emily Nussbaum unearths the origin story of the genre that ate the world, as told through the lively voices of the people who built it. At once gimlet-eyed and empathetic, Cue the Sun! explores the morally charged, funny, and sometimes tragic consequences of the hunt for something real inside something fake.

In sharp, absorbing prose, Nussbaum traces the jagged fuses of experimentation that exploded with Survivor at the turn of the millennium. She introduces the genre’s trickster pioneers, from the icy Allen Funt to the shambolic Chuck Barris; Cops auteur John Langley; cynical Bachelor ringmaster Mike Fleiss; and Jon Murray and Mary-Ellis Bunim, the visionaries behind The Real World—along with dozens of stars from An American Family, The Real World, Big Brother, Survivor, and The Bachelor. We learn about the tools of the trade—like the Frankenbite, a deceptive editor’s best friend—and ugly tales of exploitation. But Cue the Sun! also celebrates reality’s peculiar power: a jolt of emotion that could never have come from a script.

What happened to the first reality stars, the Louds—and why won’t they speak to the couple who filmed them? Which serial killer won on The Dating Game? Nussbaum explores reality TV as a strike-breaker, the queer roots of Bravo, the dark truth behind The Apprentice, and more. A shrewd observer who adores television, Nussbaum is the ideal voice for the first substantive history of the genre that, for better or worse, made America what it is today.
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Praise for Cue the Sun!

“Every so often there’s a nonfiction title I covet like it’s the next installment in my favorite mystery series. This summer it’s Cue the Sun! It combines the appeal of a page-turning thriller and the heft of serious scholarship. Juicy and thoughtful, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in television or popular culture.”—Carole V. Bell, NPR

“The finest kind of pop-cultural narrative history: inquisitive, discerning, surprising, thoughtful, informative, and lively; underpinned but not weighed down by its serious intent; and written with a storyteller’s verve, a journalist’s skepticism, a critic’s astuteness, and a fan’s loving eye.”—Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

“Emily Nussbaum is an extraordinary navigator—she makes her way through the wilds of ‘dirty documentary’ with grace, humor, and an unerring sense of direction. As the first history of a phenomenon too few take seriously, Cue the Sun! is a blast to read whether you’re a fan of the reality genre or not.”—Ann Powers, author of Traveling

“Revelatory, insightful, precise, dark, and wildly entertaining, Emily Nussbaum’s examination of reality television—starting before the term even existed—is also a radical reframing of the entire history of TV. Spanning seventy-five years, it’s a thrilling alt-timeline of television as escapism and horror show, as funhouse mirror and forensic dissection, as aspiration and nightmare. This is essential cultural analysis.”—Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution

“One of our greatest critics delivers the definitive history of reality TV with insight, passion, and wit. Cue the Sun! ingeniously makes the creators and producers even more fascinating than the onscreen stars.”—Robert Kolker, author of Hidden Valley Road

“It’s rare for a book to feel alive, but this one does. It brims with wonder and wit, with backstage drama and genuine pathos. Nussbaum shows that behind the lens of reality TV lies the most fascinating reality of all.”—David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon

“Only Emily Nussbaum could get me to read, and love, a book about reality TV rather than just watching it. Cue the Sun! somehow manages to be incredibly fun while taking its subject seriously. It is the definitive exploration of the only good and important genre of television. I’m calling it: Emily Nussbaum is the only reality TV judge who matters *bangs gavel*.”—Samantha Irby, author of Wow, No Thank You

“In this boisterous chronicle, Nussbaum charts unscripted television’s evolution. . . . Detailed interviews with cast, crew, and producers provide juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits . . . It’s a rowdy and unsettling look at how reality conquered television. . . . Shocking.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Reality television may be ubiquitous, but it’s not new, as the New Yorker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Nussbaum illustrates in this fine book . . . Whether fans of the genre or not, readers will enjoy this deep dive into a format that, for better or worse, is here to stay.”Booklist
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About the Author

Emily Nussbaum
Emily Nussbaum is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she’s worked since 2011, originally as the magazine’s television critic. In 2016, she won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. Previously, she was the culture editor for New York, where she created the Approval Matrix.  She is the author of I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution, which was a finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Clive Thompson, and their two children. More by Emily Nussbaum
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