The first season of "The Real World" was groundbreaking because little to nothing like it had ever aired before. This was a huge key to its success because the roommates didn't go in with preconceived notions about how they should behave while the producers and directors didn't as blatantly attempt to engineer storylines as would later be the case.
The second season in Los Angeles was pretty good too. However, some of the problems that would later undermine the show started to seep in. One of the roommates, Beth S, turned out to not be who she claimed to be. She put herself over as midwestern college grad from Ohio and publicity from just before the season premiere, at which time the show was still shooting, described her as such. There was no internet as we know it in 1993 and background checking people was harder. If you go back and watch this season, you'll notice that references to her background disappear at a certain point. One of the behind the scenes people noticed some inconsistencies about her backstory when she discussed it and also that she was playing to the cameras in a way that went beyond what they'd consider normal in such circumstances. Beth S was taken aside, asked what was going on, and copped to being an actress who essentially came up with the midwestern gal gimmick because it improved her chances of being selected for the show. They didn't remove her from the show and instead had her stop working the gimmick while not actually stating that she wasn't what she claimed to be.
The San Francisco season was by far the most noteworthy season. Puck was the first real villain on the show. Roommates had acted annoying and self centered, but he was the first guy who seemed to be openly hostile towards the others when it came to his selfish behavior. It definitely influenced the producers when it came to them deliberately looking for shit stirrers in his wake. The other roommates have said that the editing made Puck look not nearly as bad as he actually was and that there was an effort to show him in a more positive light to viewers than they experienced while living with him because he had some potential for other MTV projects that required him to be somewhat likeable. I'd buy that Pedro Zamora was put over too strongly and that if not at that time then later, had he lived, he'd have admitted to that. Him living with AIDS but looking relatively alright while they were taping from February to June of 1994 only to die the night after the season finale aired in November was pretty heavy for the time and got the show a ton of publicity.
The eventful San Francisco season and the dreadfully dull London season that followed killed the show to a great extent. The San Francisco season was a hard act to follow, but MTV and the producers seemed to cast the London season in an attempt to deliberately create more fireworks. Instead, the roommates largely got along and when faced with personality conflicts and disagreements seemed to legitimately try to work things out in a mature manner. Meanwhile they couldn't get work visas for the American roommates who had to largely sit around doing nothing which wasn't good for storyline purposes. In the aftermath, big changes were made for the Miami season which stuck with the show long term. Notably, the roommates from then on all had jobs at the same workplace in an effort to generate more storyline and more conflict. However, the lack of the roommates chasing different pursuits robbed the show of some uniqueness because it made everyone too much the same. This also took an already contrived show and made it unbearably more so. The other issue is the effort by the producers to select much more obviously vapid personalities as well as more easily irritated people, not to mention people after TV careers who played to the cameras, became more deliberate and pronounced. The show went on for a long time afterwards, but was never as good.
Interesting information. Thanks. Like many have said, the game was over when the lightbulb went off for all the participants that they could try and parlay the Real World gig into something else by acting in a way that would garner attention, i.e. like assholes. I don't know if Puck was actually doing that, I think he may have actually been an asshole, but he also had a strong bullshit meter, which made him stick out like a sore thumb in a house full of poseurs.