Network reality shows still avoiding HD even as cable makes the switch

Of the 26 major network prime-time reality series, just three–American Gladiators, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars–are filmed in high definition, and networks have no immediate plans to switch other reality TV shows to HD, although The Amazing Race might do so in a few years. This is despite the fact that unscripted cable shows are increasingly filmed in HD, including Dirty Jobs and the new Trading Spaces

The reluctance to improve the quality of reality programming is still largely about money, as USA TODAY reports that “high definition cameras are more costly and less reliable. Repairs and video storage on remote locations make HD a hazard, too.”

Amazing Race executive producer Jonathan Littman said HD cameras “are not meant yet for that type of rough travel and the sheer cost. It’s a pretty high escalation in our budget. It’s not double at the moment, but it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars for the total run.”

But Deadliest Catch executive producer Paul Gasek basically calls bullshit on the fragile cameras part, as the upcoming season of that show will be filmed in HD, and there’s probably no reality show that’s more violent for cameras. “On a big screen, that experience isn’t the same if the picture is not crystal-clear,” he said. “On a boat like that, if something goes wrong with one camera, you just have to have another one. It would be crazy not to do it in HD if you could.”

Still, Littman says that his show may eventually make the switch, if it’s not cancelled first. “I’m hoping if we’re hanging around a year or two, it’s going to become a real thing for us. There’s not a show that lends itself more to being in high-definition.” And Survivor executive producer Mark Burnett said “that HD would be a nice addition to Survivor, but the show already has a high visual quality.”

High-def reality programming a low priority [USA TODAY]

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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.