Reality Series' Ups And Downs, And The Ride Advertisers Take

Programming executives live for "lightning in a bottle": out-of-nowhere shows that hit it big. But can reality shows with hard real-life components hit too hard? And start fires?

The husband of one of the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" committed suicide recently. Real-life tragedies surrounding reality shows aren't new -- there have been other suicides and attempted suicides, as well as criminal activity such as stalking.

Advertisers understand the risks -- and some have glommed on to these efforts even though many shows have changed drastically. TLC's original "Jon & Kate Plus 8" turned upside down after a couple of years: A friendly little family show about a couple struggling to raise eight kids ended up documenting a tawdry breakup.

"Jon & Kate" was originally bought by advertisers because it promised a safe "family" reality show to run their messages against. Then the content changed big-time. Marketers then had a choice -- stay in, with short-term big ratings gains, or leave.



Producers can do a whole lot in the editing process of reality shows -- such as framing someone to be the "bad" guy" -- but when real life works itself into the mix, they need to adjust. So do marketers.

Bravo says it will delay September's start of "Real Housewives," probably to re-edit some things. But it is not canceling the series. In the past, some reality shows had no choice. A couple of years ago, VH1 pulled a couple of reality shows when a contestant who was a suspect in the killing of his ex-wife killed himself. With "Housewives," some of this drama is already there. You expect talk of divorce, scandal and betrayal. But do you expect suicide?

Years ago, TV advertisers had real-life "hit lists" -- those shows and topics where they didn't want their advertising to run. Airline advertisers didn't want to be in a movie of the week where, say, an airline crashed in the storyline; Japanese-based automotive makers didn't want to be in some World War II movies.

The question is: Are advertisers more accepting of risky content now than they were years ago -- or are they more discerning, given the plethora of TV media platforms available?

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