AGT returns strong with judge sword fight, dancers in the dark, Nick Cannon nonsense

America’s Got Talent returned for its sixth season last night, and came back strong, both in terms of content and viewers. Ratings were up 17 percent among people ages 18-49 and 21 percent overall, and the show brought its high energy and sense of fun to summer competition TV, which, along with So You Think You Can Dance, is so much better than the spring pair of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.

The premiere featured auditions from both ridiculous and impressive acts, and too much of Nick Cannon, again. As usual, someone who’s producing the series thinks we want to constantly see Nick Cannon backstage either reacting awkwardly or, worse, doing some shitty imitation of what he is seeing on stage. Nick Cannon is actually a great host and interviewer, so I really, really wish they’d stop this nonsense, but clearly someone is infatuated with those cutaways.

The show ended with a dance group called Illuminate that was reminiscent of last year’s group Fighting Gravity in that it takes place in the dark and involves impressive choreography and seems like a strong contender to win the prize and be a headlining act in Las Vegas, but most likely will just entertain us until it is eventually beaten by a mediocre singer. Choreographed by a dancer and software engineer, it managed to be unique despite the similarities, and Piers Morgan called it “probably the single most exciting audition I’ve ever seen on the show.

Watch that here, preceded by an audition that ends with Piers and Howie Mandel sword fighting. With actual swords.

The Sing-Off loses its star

Ben Folds

NBC's super-fun December a capella singing competition The Sing-Off is returning, but without its star judge, Ben Folds, and only as a two-hour special. Those are really depressing changes for a series that proved itself to be a super-fun show when it returned last December.

A film director talks about becoming a reality TV character

Anna Martemucci

What is it like to have your life turned into reality TV? Director Anna Martemucci, one of the two directors featured on Starz' exceptional reality series, talks about that, the competition, and her collaboration with her husband and brother-in-law.

Plus: How the show's producers tried to keep the $250,000 competition fair.

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.