Reality TV’s “summer slowdown” will be followed by 18.5 hours of reality TV a week this fall

Summer reality shows have performed well enough to earn renewals from their networks, but there has yet to be “even one new reality show that could be considered a game-changer … or even a modest success,” Variety reports.

Worse, the paper says “the summer slowdown is symptomatic of larger problems plaguing the reality genre.” This doesn’t mean reality TV is going anywhere: on just the five networks alone, there will be “a record 18½ hours of reality programming” this fall. And besides obvious examples of summer cancellations or other failures, Variety does note “that reality’s headaches are partly perceptual. In years past, reality had a better success rate than traditional fare; now, with a glut of programming, the failure rate in the genre is approaching that of scripted shows.”

So what is wrong? Basically that reality TV has caught up to scripted programming in terms of how networks abuse and misuse it. “There are too many reality shows. … and they all look alike,” Variety says, noting that “the lack of imagination in the reality world is stunning.” In addition, there’s much more competition than there used to be.

Mark Burnett compares reality’s success and failures to scripted shows. “How many new dramas worked in the last season? How many comedies? Maybe three or four? And that’s for the entire season. In the summer, (viewership) levels are down, and I don’t think the networks expect most of these shows to break out,” he said. And he doesn’t think networks should give up on programming reality TV during the summer. “Without summer, there wouldn’t have been a ‘Survivor’ or ‘American Idol.’ And if you’re a network, you still have a better chance of making money with a reality show than with a drama.”

FOX’s Mike Darnell says that “traditional reality shows … are suffering right now. … I think it all works in cycles. The audience gets tired when there are too many shows in a genre. So right now, gameshows and variety shows are working. Soon, we’ll have to move on to another genre,” he said.

Of course, you could move on to a new sub-genre now and innovate, rather than just copying everything other networks and your own network produce. Just a thought.

Reality TV bites this summer [Variety]

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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.