Top Chef spin-off gets new name, host; hit reality shows with black audiences ignored; NatGeo shake-up

Our semi-regular round-up of stories you may have missed:

  • The top executives at National Geographic’s U.S. channels, Howard T. Owens and David Lyle, are unexpectedly leaving. The channels’ marketing executive, Courteney Monroe, takes over as CEO, and 21st Century Fox’s David Hill becomes chair of the U.S. channels. The Hollywood Reporter’s analysis says last year “ratings surged to 12-year highs” but “growth stalled, and no truly viable unscripted hit has been produced.” (Uh, Brain Games?) But Deadline notes that the channels’ high ratings following the executives’ “makes the executive housecleaning puzzling” but “follows speculation about a discord between Hill and NGC’s leadership team of Lyle and Owens who turned the network around in the past three years.” Variety confirms that by reporting “Lyle and Owens at times clashed with execs on the Nat Geo Society side.”
  • Last weekend’s edition of The Hollywood Reporter magazine explores Race and Reality: The Quiet Success of the Black Unscripted Boom, says that it’s “one of the biggest trends in television” that reality series with mostly black cast members—such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives—are hits but their networks don’t mention that they have largely black audiences, perhaps because “there long has been a disparity between advertising revenue for white viewers — black audiences still command smaller rates for networks.”
  • Bravo announced last week that its summer series Top Chef Extreme will be retitled Top Chef Duels and hosted and judged by Curtis Stone. Of course it will. And that significantly reduces my interest in the show. I do not understand the obsession with him at Bravo; he was perfectly likable on Celebrity Apprentice but is grating as a host/judge, inserting himself way too often on Top Chef Masters. The other judges are better: Gail Simmons appears to be the other permanent judge, with appearances by Wolfgang Puck, Hugh Acheson, and others.
  • If you want to make yourself sad, read all the other reality series Bravo is working on, such as Friends to Lovers?, Manzo’d with Children, and Euros of Hollywood.
  • Bravo’s Princesses: Long Island was quietly cancelled.
  • Piers Morgan’s cancelled show will be replaced by reality series and documentaries, including what essentially is the revival of Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs and what is essentially the revival of Lisa Ling’s cancelled OWN series Our America (the new show is “a gritty, breathtaking journey to far corners of America, immersing herself in sub-cultures that are unusual, bizarre and sometimes dangerous,” kind of like her old show). Other series include The Hunt with John Walsh, which “will tell stories of ongoing international criminal investigations in which the suspect is a fugitive at large.”
  • Jersey Shore production company 495 Productions, which was recently acquired by Fremantle, is the target of a class-action lawsuit filed by a former editor who claims 495 had “unfair business practices and saying they failed to pay for overtime work, violated minimum wage laws and acted improperly in other ways.”
  • The GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program went to Fuse’s Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce.
  • So You Think You Can Dance host Cat Deely is starring in Hulu’s series Deadbeat; she told Emmy magazine, “I get to play a real baddie” but the switch to this kind of role “terrified me.”
  • The “surprising laid-back process” of auditioning for The Bachelor.
  • Bachelorette couple Trista and Ryan Sutter are among the reality star couples who will appear on WEtv’s Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars.
  • The trailer for Lifetime’s upcoming True Tori “looks uncomfortably real,” which is a surprise after all the scripted crap that Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott produced for Oxygen.
  • Middletown, New Jersey, is “discussing requiring TV and movie crews to obtain film permits because of the explosion of reality TV home-rebuilding shows since superstorm Sandy,” The Asbury Park Press reports. Jersey Shore The Situation’s new show The Sorrentinos will film in the town soon, though officials said this new ordinance is unrelated.
  • Why Neil deGrasse Tyson was selected to host Fox and National Geographic’s COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey.
  • Time suggests Five Pop Culture Documentaries That Hollywood Should Make
  • The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real is an annual “nonfiction showcase” that this year “features new work from around the world alongside retrospective selections by both known and unjustly forgotten filmmakers. It is a platform for filmmakers and artists who have given us a wider view of nonfiction cinema and at the same time brought the form full circle, back to its early, boundary-pushing days.” The New Yorker describes it as “extraordinary” and discusses its evidence that “documentaries have always been fake.”
  • Lindsay Lohan told David Letterman that her OWN show Lindsay was “a really interesting experience” and but said things were “taken out of context,” and said “I don’t have control of the editing.”
  • There’s a new The X Factor knock-off coming (HA) called The Sex Factor, which calls itself “a reality competition where eight guys and eight girls will compete for porn stardom and a ONE MILLION DOLLAR PRIZE. None of the sixteen contestants have been filmed before and America will vote to decide the winners.” It’ll be hosted by Duke University porn star Belle Knox.
  • An injury suffered by the person behind a “reality pub” in Buffalo, NY, means that it won’t open for now. The bar, Fat Augie’s, is a “bar and live music venue that had planned to film willing employees, patrons and performers for a YouTube reality show,” The Buffalo News reports.
  • Pawn Stars Chumlee, aka Austin Russell, who did not die last month, but has lost 75 pounds.
  • This short film, “An & Ria’s First flight,” follows two 70-something women who take their first flight. (You may have seen Ria on a roller coaster.) It’s sponsored by Vodafone—hence all the product integration, never mind the private jet—but it’s incredibly moving for an advertisement.
  • Chrisley Knows Best is so addictively awful

    On Sunday, I discovered that I can no longer make it through an episode of Mad Men: it’s well-acted and the production values are strong, but the pace and repetition of themes from earlier seasons leaves me incredibly bored. On Monday, I started binge-watching USA’s Chrisley Knows Best and couldn’t stop watching.

    I’m deeply ashamed.

    But let’s talk about it. USA just renewed it for a second season, having finally found a reality show with strong ratings after failing with shows such as Summer Camp. I initially ignored Chrisley Knows Best because of the preview, which showed Todd Chrisley discovering his teenage son was watching porn and throwing his laptop in the pool, and which seemed more like the staged crap cable networks shovel our way.

    The surprise was how real the show seems. This isn’t a fly on the wall documentary by any means, but it surprisingly does not feel scripted. Instead, it feels like a throwback to the era when reality TV followed people who were living their lives but were acutely aware of—and often playing to—the cameras. That said, there are certainly moments and scenes that are clearly set up for the sake of the production, and some feel just fake (like Todd throwing Chase’s iPhone into the lake). And I’m not yet sure if 7-year-old Grayson is just being a kid or is sometimes being coached.

    Regardless: I’m watching because Todd Chrisley is a terrific character, a crazy, entertaining bundle of contradictions, a super-rich flamboyant straight man who has been sued for sexual harassment by both men and women.

    He’s an insane parent who has absolutely no trust in his kids and is obsessively controlling with his entire family. Yet it’s oddly tolerable, even compelling, to watch, only because he’s aware of what he’s doing and has a sense of humor about it. And his one-liners are pretty hilarious.

    That doesn’t change how crazy his parenting often is, though. He’s disturbingly obsessed with his kids’ sexuality, spending a surprising a lot of time focused on his daughters’ bodies and parts under the guise of being concerned about how others are looking at them, such as when he asked his 16-year-old daughter to bend over while trying on a dress.

    Todd Chrisley’s family acts as foils, whether his kids are openly defying him, secretly defying him, or just screwing with him. All of it creates light conflict between people who have a real bond, unlike most of the Real Housewives, who were just cast to fight with each other.

    In addition, Chrisley Knows Best offers an undercurrent of the typical rich person reality show thing where we feel superior to the people on screen even though they are better off than we are. This show mostly illustrates how money can be spent but really can’t buy certain things (e.g. perfect teeth). But that isn’t what makes it watchable; it’s more than that.

    A lot of networks have tried to air “reality sitcoms,” using real people’s lives to badly script unfunny scenes, and nearly all of them have failed. What the show’s producers, Maverick TV and All3Media, have found here is a family that does most of their work for them, just by being real—really nuts, that is. They’ve been compared to The Osbournes, and I hope the comparison stops before the point at which that show became increasingly, pointlessly scripted.

    Logo apologizes for Drag Race’s “insensitive” language, challenge; pulls episode

    Logo has pulled the fourth episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and apologized for what it called “insensitive” language and that others referred to as “anti-trans slurs.” In addition, the show will edit out “you’ve got she-mail” lines from future episodes.

    The episode included “Female or She-Male” challenge, which was guest hosted by someone from Us Weekly, and RuPaul asked the drag queen contestants to identify whether someone is “a biological woman or a psychological woman.”

    The network originally addressed the controversy but basically blew it off, saying in a statement last month, “We have heard the concerns around this segment.” At that time, the show’s producers, including RuPaul Charles, said “When it comes to the movement of our trans sisters and trans brothers, we are newly sensitized and more committed than ever to help spread love, acceptance and understanding.”

    The network’s new statement said,

    “We wanted to thank the community for sharing their concerns around a recent segment and the use of the term ‘she-mail’ on Drag Race.

    Logo has pulled the episode from all of our platforms and that challenge will not appear again.

    Furthermore, we are removing the ‘You’ve got she-mail’ intro from new episodes of the series.

    We did not intend to cause any offense, but in retrospect we realize that it was insensitive. We sincerely apologize.”

    In a post about Logo’s decision, GLAAD noted that the show’s production company, World of Wonder, has also produced “some of the most groundbreaking transgender media images of the past ten year,” including the show that just won a GLAAD award, Fuse’s Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, which follows a performer who “identifies somewhere on the transgender spectrum.”

    Why the Amy’s Baking Co. Kitchen Nightmares update was so embarrassing

    As adapted by Fox and A. Smith & Co. Productions, Kitchen Nightmares went from a terrifically entertaining, dramatic UK series to a loud, dumbed-down, badly produced mess. Throughout its run, it’s only gotten worse.

    But last year’s fantastic finale episode, featuring Amy’s Baking Company, was different. Sure, it had some of the eye-rolling bullshit we’ve come to expect from the Fox show, such as Ramsay feigning surprise that the restaurant was locked—even though he was being filmed by a camera that was actually inside the “locked” restaurant.

    But mostly, that episode had rich, real-life characters reacting in unexpected ways, and it was absurd fun from start to finish. (When Amy started meowing? Come on!) What happened afterwards was also entertaining. So, I was looking forward to last night’s season premiere of Kitchen Nightmares, a follow-up episode.

    Instead, we got a whole lot of evidence that the show learned nothing.

    Most of the episode focused on reaction to last year’s episode, which came off even more self-serving than it was. Ramsay narrated from the Hell’s Kitchen set as if he was a Dateline reporter. A lot of what Ramsay said was just absurd, like when he insisted reaction to the episode was “the number-one trending story on the Internet” (what does that even mean?!). At one point, he also non-ironically said “online bloggers,” which is a redundant and clueless phrase that unintentionally recalls Amy’s description of redditors as “online legion trolls.”

    Having a few journalists recap what happened last year and flashing tweets on the screen (including mine!) only told people what they already knew: it was a great episode. But by hammering that point over and over again, re-using the same footage, it unintentionally made the counter-argument. The show seems incapable of not blowing things out of proportion and revealing its desperate attempts to be entertaining.

    Eventually, it got around to including never-before-seen footage that, at best, didn’t add much, and at worst, made this seem like an illustration of how badly produced Kitchen Nightmares really is. For the worst example: Trying to make the argument that Amy and Samy needed the show’s help, the producers had Ramsay introduce the couple’s “submission video” by saying they’d asked for help.

    But that “submission video” wasn’t a casting video that someone might shoot on an iPhone and send in, hoping to be selected for a show. Instead, it was clearly shot by producers, very possibly even during production of the episode, though the footage was filtered to look amateurish.

    Yet it included sit-down interviews with Amy and Samy, and included Amy acknowledging that she was being interviewed by a producer (“I can’t remember the questions you’re asking”) and talking to the camera crew (“can you film him?”). To label that as a “submission video” and pretend that was their desperate attempt to get cast is just absurd—and totally unnecessary.

    Amy and Samy finally appeared in actually new footage during the last few minutes of the episode, when Fox’s LA affiliate reporter Ana Garcia ambushed them. Yes, that’s literally the best they could do: sending some random reporter to barge in with a camera crew.

    Of course, it worked, resulting in more on-camera crazy. For example, Amy insisted that their social media accounts were hacked last year and that while “we didn’t say those things—now we are, because now you have lit the fire inside of us.” Amy also said Ramsay “tried to destroy us” and, going on a crazy, unedited rant, said “obviously the whole world thinks we’re psychotic because of the way they edited us.”

    But by that point, Kitchen Nightmares made it clear that it’s a show that lacks integrity, not that we needed Amy to convince us.

    At the very end, Ramsay said “what happened in Scottsdale was actually quite disappointing.” As Ramsay likes to tell people, he’s delusional: of course it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to the Fox series. If only the people that produced it knew why.


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    Dirty Jobs, Project Greenlight each returning, basically, but with new networks, twists

    Two excellent but cancelled series are essentially returning to television, though on different networks and with slightly different formats. Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs-like series Somebody’s Gotta Do It will air on CNN this fall, while Starz’s first reality series will essentially be Project Greenlight, though The Chair has the twist of two different directors producing two different movies but using the same script.

    First, CNN announced that Rowe’s new series is “a brand new mission” but it sounds pretty similar to his cancelled Discovery Channel series, as it “brings viewers face-to-face with men and women who march to the beat of a different drum. In each episode, Rowe visits unique individuals and joins them in their respective undertakings, paying tribute to innovators, do-gooders, entrepreneurs, collectors, fanatics–people who simply have to do it.”

    In case there’s any doubt that it’ll be the same show, just with a wider range of people, it’s produced by the same production company as Dirty Jobs, Pilgrim Studios. The new format sounds like a logical extension of Dirty Jobs, as it will allow Mike Rowe to do what he does best, which is interact with and spotlight real people in their real lives. And I’m sure it will be better than NatGeo WILD’s shameless clone of Dirty Jobs.

    Meanwhile, Starz’s 10-episode fall series will be executive produced by Chris Moore, who produced and starred in the HBO (later Bravo) series; he’ll mentor the contestants along with Zachary Quinto and his producing partners. The network describes The Chair as “a competition documentary series that follows two directors through the process of bringing their first feature to the screen,” both of whom will use the exact same screenplay. The network will air the films, and the series itself “will document the creation, marketing and theatrical release of both adaptations.”

    Viewer votes will give one director $250,000, and because filming in Pittsburgh, Penn., has ended, the network has announced the directors and screenplay:

    “Filmmakers Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci will adapt ‘How Soon is Now,’ a coming-of-age feature length comedy that chronicles the first homecoming on Thanksgiving weekend by a handful of college freshman who are fumbling towards adulthood, written by Dan Schoffer and produced by Josh Shader.

    While they are both first-time feature film directors, Dawson is an internet superstar whose YouTube comedy channels boast more than 10 million subscribers and over a billion views. Martemucci is a writer, actor and filmmaker who most recently received critical recognition for her independent film Breakup at a Wedding, which she starred in and wrote. Both directors will have creative leeway to develop their film using their own ingenuity and distinct experience. Screenplay rewrites, the casting of actors, hiring of crewmembers — even the name of the film — will be up to the directors and documented in the series.”

    That’s a really smart twist on Project Greenlight, which began as a competition for writers and directors but spent most of its season following the creation of a film. It was fantastic drama. (Alas, only seasons one and two are on DVD.)

    Survivor’s magnanimous, selfless queen graciously steps aside to let others play

    Morgan may have been voted out during last night’s Survivor Cagayan Tribal Council, but her impact on the tribe was illustrated, literally, on the votes. Her fellow tribe members cared so much about her that they not only took the time to adorn her one of her votes with a portrait of her amazing body, but they also gave her the title she deserved: Queen Morgan.

    Morgan exits the game as one of the best and most selfless players in its history. She graciously stepped aside and let other people take the spotlight. She never once tried to selfishly affect the outcome of challenges or make friends, but instead let others actively play the game they’d flown to the Philippines to play.

    Morgan was such a powerful and well-liked player that she was able to be voted out despite Jeff Probst’s badgering of her tribemates to keep her and do something more interesting at Tribal Council. By explaining how she deserved to stick around until the very end where she could let someone else win, Probst enhanced her reputation so much that the majority of the tribe, in awe of her amazingness, was compelled to write her name down.

    “I just want to say how proud I am of myself,” she said during her exit interview. Demonstrating how she places others first, Morgan added, “They can say whatever they want at tribal, that I was spiteful or that I was lazy, but I could care less.” That’s just so awesome: Morgan actually could do less caring, but she doesn’t! Whoever cast her deserves a bonus.

    While Morgan was “used to things being easy for me and not having to work that hard to get things,” as she humbly confessed, her fellow tribe members were never aware of her position in life. They were instead so entranced by her luxurious softness and the comfort that Tony compared her to the very thing that gives him comfort for about one-third of every day: a pillow.

    Of course Morgan’s team won the reward challenge and got to appreciate the labors of CBS’ ad sales department, because Morgan was there. Why did Spencer and LJ finish their puzzle so fast even though the other team were in the lead? Because Morgan was standing there, distracting the other team with her radiance and assisting her team by casting a glow onto their puzzle.

    Because she is so fond of working with other people, Morgan even participated in the episode’s highlight (I mean, the highlight other than every moment when Morgan was on screen): a search for the Tyler Perry idol to make sure everyone understood the gravity of what was happening.

    The clue Spencer found at the reward triggered by what was perhaps the most comical idol-searching series of events ever, all filmed exceptionally well: Woo stalking Spencer, Spencer leaving his clue on his pants, Woo running back to tattle to the others, everyone running around and shouting about the idol, Spencer eventually uncovering and stuffing the idol in his shorts while Kass stood nearby.

    Morgan foreshadowed the events that would permit Spencer to discover the idol: At the beginning of the episode, she gave Kass a pep talk, using all of her rhetorical skills to help Kass’ self-esteem (yes, Morgan took time to do that: she’s just that amazing).

    Of course, someone as attractive as Morgan never would have just stood by and let Spencer uncover an idol without her noticing; someone as attractive as Morgan would have told someone else to watch Spencer carefully while Morgan took on the difficult task of making sure the floor of the shelter remained firmly in place.

    She excelled so much at doing nothing that she lasted a full 25 minutes in the immunity challenge, which involved standing completely still, which you may have noticed is one of her many strengths. She outlasted four people, but because she’s so gracious, she let four other people battle it out for immunity. Spencer finally won, making a face the whole time that clearly said, I am thinking about Morgan and winning this for her.

    Without Morgan, I’m not sure where this season is going to go. I fully expect Probst to announce the return of Redemption Island next week, because if there’s anyone deserving of a second chance, it’s someone like Morgan.

    Dancing With the Stars’ producer leaving for Fox show

    Executive producer and showrunner Conrad Green will leave Dancing with the Stars at the end of this season to produce Fox’s Utopia. He’s been with the ABC show since its first season.

    Green told Deadline—in a very press release-y statement—that the show he created at ABC “has thrived and become a cultural phenomenon. But after almost 10 years, the opportunity to take on a project with the immense potential of Utopia was simply too good to pass up. The ambition and scale of the challenge is thrilling. I’ll miss everyone I’ve worked with on Dancing With the Stars and look forward to this next exciting chapter.”

    Of course, as Deadline notes, “the ratings for Dancing have come down and, starting last fall, the show went from two to one episode a week.” While it’s not exactly the Titanic he’s leaping from, it’s certainly no longer the cultural phenomenon it once was.

    Utopia is a year-long show with elements of Big Brother and Survivor that’s being adapted from the popular Netherlands series. Green will produce along with Jon Kroll, who previously worked on Big Brother, The Amazing Race, and other shows, such as Amish in the City, which he created.

    How do I become a Survivor Dream Team member? Survivor’s risks vs. Amazing Race’s staleness

    I’ve been reading your articles pretty much daily for quite a few years now, and I came across one a couple weeks ago about how a Survivor Dream team member actually got his idea for a challenge on the air.

    I know you said you’re not a producer, and I understand that. But I was hoping and wondering if you could at least give me an idea of where to turn or how I should go about this. I know you said you don’t have any one’s e-mails, but if you could just give me your opinion on how I should go about this, I’d be really appreciative because I have zero clue. —Josh

    How to hired as a Dream Team member seems to be the greatest Survivor mystery. Dream Teamers work on building challenges in the art department, and help with camera and other equipment. Of course, there’s also the fun part: testing challenges and serving as stand-ins, especially for helicopter shots of the challenges.

    The mystery of how to get hired is heightened because stories about how people became Dream Teamers can make it seem both easily accessible and impossibly difficult. Dream Team members have been hired because they knew someone on production, were hired locally where the show is being filmed, or managed to get the attention of challenge producer John Kirhoffer by sending a letter to production.

    My best advice: Be creative but not annoying. Be persistent, but not annoying. Show how passionate you are but don’t act entitled. Don’t give up after not hearing anything immediately (this person heard back a year later).

    I think there are many people who want to do this, but probably very few who want it bad enough to really do the work. Some people literally Google and then give up. What is that work? I honestly don’t know, and I think that’s because there is not one path to the Dream Team. Make phone calls. Look at what past Dream Teamers have done. Create something attention-getting. Try multiple things.

    Whatever you do: Have fun, and good luck!

    Survivor and The Amazing Race have both been on TV for over ten years, but in my opinion, one of these has managed to keep their show fresh while the other has grown stale. I suspect you might know which might be which.

    Due to its restricted budget, after Heroes Vs. Villains, Survivor has been trying out new ideas and twists such as Redemption Island, two tribes on one beach, more returning players, Blood Vs Water and so on. The Amazing Race, on the other hand, is essentially the same every season with the exception of the rather boring Express Pass.

    Do you think Survivor’s risk taking is the reason why it has been improving in ratings and recently beating American Idol for the first time? And do you think if it returned to its organic format, where every season featured 16-20 new players divided into two tribes with no new twists, would it still be as engaging to viewers? —Niall

    I’m not so sure I can answer this so much as I can agree with it: yes to all of the above.

    While more than one of Survivor’s changes have made me cringe and/or flip out, the constant innovation has ultimately kept the show interesting. The past few years have been consistently entertaining, even despite dark spots.

    Meanwhile, I ultimately stopped watching The Amazing Race not because it needed to fix itself but because the show changed the wrong things. Worse, it was boring. Every season is the same thing over and over again. For a while, you could have said that about Survivor game play, but not any more.

    I have barely watched this season of American Idol, because ultimately it’s still the same show that it was last year, just with different judges and different editing. The changes are ultimately cosmetic, and for an industry that’s risk-averse, that makes sense.

    The brilliance of Survivor’s changes over the past 14 years is that it’s managed to keep its external appearance but alter parts of its DNA. The show is now like a Star Trek alien: still recognizably humanoid but with different physical features and values.

    By keeping relatively the same structure and appearance, the production has avoided freaking out and industry that’s so risk-averse, but has also given itself a lot of room to play and see what works. Some of that is endemic to the format, and some of it is the decisions the producers have made. Together, they’ve kept the show alive long past anyone thought it might survive.

    Have a question? Ask me! I’ll do my best to answer.

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