Reality TV suffering from “a dearth of creative ideas” and “self-plagiarizing” producers

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.

Sad Realities [Newsweek]

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

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.