A genre coined by TV industry insiders to refer to reality TV shows that are half game show, half soap opera. The idea is to associate game shows with reality TV shows, while admitting that people watch reality TV shows for the drama and not the payoff.
I first saw this term in a press release for the 2003 Game Show Congress, a trade show to be held July 12, 2003 in Las Vegas. After some confusion, a Google search revealed that the term has gained favor across the TV industry. While most reality TV shows have a large prize (up to $1 million) the build-up takes months. Unlike a game show that can have a payoff in an hour or less, a game opera is built on tension and suspense.
Recent game operas that have made quite a splash:
Not all reality TV programs are game operas. I would hesitate to call Fear Factor or The Weakest Link a game opera as they both resolve within the course of a single show. Likewise, programs like The Osbournes and The Anna Nicole Show follow dysfunctional people around but do not have any prizes or competition.