Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Dig through the archives of this site, and its predecessor, and you’ll see pretty quickly that I’m no fan of reality television. It’s cut-rate lazy programming in all its empty glory, is based on nothing more than the illusion of “reailty", and winds up being as formulaic as any other brand of TV series. The rise of reality shows dovetailed pretty neatly with my own marked decrease in television watching, and while it doesn’t take all the blame/credit for that, it had its part.

Just like any business or creative cycle, reality was due to run its course, despite wild speculations that it represented a big part of the future of television. The industry naturally feeds on itself through imitation, creating glut and overexposure. As a result, audiences are getting their fill of reality shows, signalling a potential end to their preponderance.

“It’s a band-aid,” [veteran TV producer Bernie] Brillstein said. He and other industry executives said the mainstreaming of reality shows has led them to suffer the same high casualty rates as conventional sitcoms and dramas.

“With quantity comes failure,” Fox TV reality chief Mike Darnell was quoted as saying in Daily Variety. “It becomes a combination of mediocre shows or shows that are so similar to other shows, they don’t stick out.”

Nowhere has this become more apparent lately than at Fox, which currently devotes about 60 percent of its prime-time schedule to unscripted shows - more than any other network.

After taking a dive with its much-ballyhooed boxing show, “The Next Great Champ,” Fox TV stumbled with two more high-profile reality launches this month - “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” and Sir Richard Branson’s “The Rebel Billionaire.”

Not only that, but the long-term economics for reality shows don’t look particularly good either:

In the end, however, the biggest limit to the commercial success of reality TV may be its limited shelf life in an industry whose business model hinges on the ability of producers to eventually sell their shows as reruns.

“Part of our business is to get (a show) to last so you can syndicate it,” Brillstein said. “You can’t syndicate this dreck.”

That factor especially makes it easy to compare the reality craze with the previous big wave to sweep network TV: The “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” phenomenon. The trajectory was similar, but of shorter duration: ABC hit it big with the Regis Philbin vehicle, drove it into the ground, inspired a few uninspiring knockoffs, and now the gameshow genre is deader than ever. And you can’t successfully syndicate reruns of gameshows, as the stuggling Game Show Network/GSN is finding (plans for reality programming networks are afoot, although they may never come to fruition).

I doubt reality television will completely disappear; they’ve certainly got appeal, depending on the format and casting. But I think the high tide as rolled back.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/16/2004 06:17:46 PM
Category: Reality Check | Permalink |

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