Lower ratings this fall for reality blamed on “maturing” genre, increased competition

A few weeks into the new fall season means it’s time for a new round of “is reality TV dying?” stories. In the last 24 hours, both the Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times have weighed in on the subject.

The Hollywood Reporter says this current “downturn is a continuation of a trend that seized the summer, when the overwhelming majority of new reality series flopped.” Overall, networks scheduled just “14 total hours of reality TV in the fall, down from 23 in fall 2004.”

In ratings, there’s bad news besides Martha’s slide: The Apprentice 4 “has plummeted 41% season-to-date in 18-49 in its 9 p.m. Thursday slot,” THR says, and The Biggest Loser 2 “is down 23% by the same measure.” Wife Swap also “fell 39% in 18-49 over its first three weeks.” And Survivor Guatemala “is flagging, down 19% in the 18-49 demographic in the first three weeks of the year versus either the same period last year or the entire run.” Of course, Survivor is still winning its time slot, which might suggest the influence of the increased competition that most of these shows face. For example, Survivor now faces The OC, Alias, Everybody Hates Chris, and Will & Grace.

The New York Times mentions increased competition as well, and talks to Biggest Loser producer Ben Silverman, who “said he believed that the cycle has merely shifted from the invented competition shows like ‘The Apprentice’ to more aspirational shows like the ABC hit ‘Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,’ which has shown no signs of flagging, and newer ideas like the music and variety formats.”

Others in the industry also have some non-hyperbolic thoughts about the current trend. FOX VP Preston Beckman tells THR, “I think what’s happened is we are at a maturing phase for reality programming. It used to be you could put on any reality show and get a rating. That’s not the case anymore.”

ABC’s Andrea Wong notes “that fall is a bad time to launch reality programming. The audience has a real hunger to check out the new dramas and comedies this time of year, so we elected to not launch any new shows.” She suggests that January, when Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor return.

Although Mark Burnett admits to The Times that Trump series’ ratings are “not where I want them to be,” he rejects the idea that reality TV is in any way dying. “How much more faded is the sit-com?” He sums it up like this: “It all comes down to quality. The good shows work; the junk generally fails.”

[Hollywood Reporter]
As Reality TV Hits Maturity, Networks Lower Expectations [The New York Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.