Tonight, Fox celebrates its 25th year on the air with a special hosted by Ryan Seacrest, of course. While ABC was the first broadcast network to air a reality series (Making the Band), and while CBS changed television with its first reality series (Survivor), Fox has done everything from generating headlines for its offensive, WTF reality shows to defining an entire genre with actual quality television.
Fox has alternated between leading the way (American Idol) and shamelessly copying other series (Trading Spouses). Some of its shows are ridiculously high-quality (So You Think You Can Dance), while others were just bad ideas (American Juniors). Here’s a rundown of reality TV highlights and lowlights from Fox’s 25 years:
- Three years after Fox started airing prime-time programming, it debuted COPS, which people often cite as the first reality series. I loved the show and watched it relentlessly, but to me it wasn’t really modern reality TV because it didn’t follow characters for more than a single segment in a half-hour episode. The Real World followed the lead of An American Family and turned real people’s lives into narrative, serialized stories. But of course, COPS‘ cinema verite style was engaging and it illustrated perfectly how real life was just as–if not more–entertaining than scripted television.
Fox recently decided to give COPS’ timeslot to Fox Sports, having already preempted the series this spring for Q’Viva, and when it returns next year, it will air fewer episodes than usual. The show hasn’t been cancelled, though, and executive producer John Langley recently told TV Guide, “If Fox doesn’t re-order us after the 25th season, we’ll find another home, I’m pretty certain. We’ve got an audience and will always have an audience no matter what happens. We’ve become an iconic program with guaranteed ratings. We usually win our time slot, so somebody will want us.”
Most of Fox’s dating shows were progressive and/or highly offensive twists on The Bachelor: The Littlest Groom (a little person bachelor choosing from both little people and average-sized people), More to Love (aka The Fatchelor), Playing it Straight (a woman choosing from gay and straight men pretending to be straight; cancelled it mid-season), and the Monica Lewinsky-hosted Mr. Personality (2003), on which the men’s faces were concealed with masks. Oh, it was also hosted by Monica Lewinsky. They also aired Married by America, which didn’t produce any marriages but did produce a then-record FCC fine for indecency.
Meanwhile, So You Think You Can Dance remains underrated–it’s the best network talent competition, period–and I’m worried about its survival now that it’s been demoted to one episode a week.