Commentary

Tired Of Reality Shows? Broadcast Networks Are, Too -- For Now

 

 Just two reality shows out of 36 new broadcast network shows are in the works for the 2010-2011 broadcast season. What does this say about the new season creatively, if not financially?

There must be reality show burn-out among viewers and advertisers.

With reality, it's a lot of work -- production companies can shoot crazy amounts of footage to piece together stories -- and, increasingly, much unpredictability. Some cable networks, like VH1, had to abandon certain shows because of contestants' criminal activities. Others, like TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8" changed their themes radically -- all trends that can scare advertisers.

We know reality shows are a misnomer: barely real, heavily edited and contrived to get a very focused result.

National TV advertisers have always pushed for scripted shows with big-name stars -- stuff they can still attach products to. More important, they want better story-telling.

Still, established reality shows saw some resurgence this past season. For example, ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and, to a lesser extent, NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" have attracted bigger-name personalities than respective past editions.

Also give credit to CBS' "Survivor," the original reality series. It revived, again becoming one of the highest-rated shows on Thursday night.

In February CBS took a big chance, starting up "Undercover Boss," a feel-good corporate reality effort, which had a big push from a Super Bowl lead-in.

While broadcasters are taking a pause in the reality field, cable networks still seem up to the challenge of growing more on top of established players lik Bravo's "Top Chef" and "Real Housewives"; Lifetime's "Project Runway"; Discovery's "Ice Road Truckers" and "Deadliest Catch"; MTV's "Jersey Shore"; and E! with "Keeping Up with the Kardashians."

The key for many TV advertisers hasn't changed: They still value a new reality show at a discount to a scripted show. And with a suddenly strong TV advertising market, networks seemingly made the easy call: go for the bigger ad money.

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