In an essay in Newsweek, Joshua Alston writes that producer Mark “Burnett’s string of failures … nails shut the coffin of reality television’s golden era.” Of course, we’ve been hearing versions of that for almost seven years now, and it’s clearly not true.
But Alston does work his way into a compelling argument: “Burnett’s ratings woes aren’t the issue as much as what appears to be a dearth of creative ideas.” He argues that while “some of the freshest, most exciting television of the past decade has been reality-based,” the “pernicious Hollywood instinct to replicate the DNA of anything remotely successful, has planted deep roots in reality television.”
Citing the concept of the never-produced ABC series The Runner, he says “that reality shows can still be groundbreaking appointment television, if its most creative minds like Burnett would stop self-plagiarizing and if networks would stop encouraging him to do so.”
That’s such an excellent point. While an occasional groundbreaking show does emerge, that’s now the exception. This summer’s new shows all seem to follow one of two templates; Bravo’s competition series blend together and are diluted because they follow the exact same template forged by the brilliant and incredible Project Runway; far too many shows are just rip-offs of American Idol.
Of course, viewers also watch the clones, so the networks don’t deserve all the blame, even if they are stuck in a holding pattern repeating the same few formats over and over again.