Has Bravo run out of assholes for reality shows?

Bravo, one of the cable networks responsible for establishing multiple sub-genres of reality television, is venturing into scripted programming, which must only be because they’ve run out of assholes to feature on their increasingly awful reality series.

The network has ordered pilots for two shows, both of which “center on the complex dynamics of modern families.” Yes, the press release actually says “modern families.”

The two shows are “Rita,” “an adaptation of the Danish format of the same name” that “follows an outspoken private school teacher who struggles to raise her own three teenage children while dealing with the inane bureaucracy and overprotective parents at her school,” and “The Joneses,” “a remake of the 2009 Demi Moore and David Duchovny indie drama” that “follows a seemingly perfect family of four that has just moved to an upscale suburb to start a new life, but have a secret they must keep from friends and neighbors… they aren’t a real family at all.”

Neither of these sound anything like anything Bravo has aired since it broadcast opera, to paraphrase Jack Donaghy, and almost seem like a complete reinvention of the brand. Perhaps that’s a good thing, because Bravo’s brand has increasingly become about finding bigger and bigger assholes who are more and more unlikable and giving them their own shows.

Having lost Project Runway a few years ago, and let all of their other competition series die except Top Chef, Bravo doubled-down on awful people, apparently confusing “awful” for “entertaining.” (The two can co-exist and even overlap; see Flipping Out for one example.) But with some notable exceptions, it’s been show after show after show of people I don’t care about acting like jerks.

How else do you can explain shows such as Million Dollar Decorators, awful people decorating for awful people, or Life After Top Chef, which took away everything good about the competition and left us with the former contestants acting like jerks in their everyday lives? And even their attempts at levity fail: LOLwork is so over-scripted it’s embarrassing, and not just because the cast is better at profiting off of other people’s cat photos than they are at acting.

This trajectory is even more remarkable considering their top executive’s bizarre conception of what makes their shows popular: Lauren Zalaznick thinks Bravo characters are “me but a bit better.” Not a chance. Try: “I am so glad that’s not me even if I wouldn’t mind having that much wealth, unless it’d turn me into an asshole, too.”

I cannot imagine reality TV is going away from Bravo, nor do I think all of Bravo’s reality TV is irredeemable. And I still very much enjoy some of their assholes.

I also cannot imagine either of these scripted shows taking off in such a way that Bravo begins to saturate its lineup with more scripted modern families. But perhaps this detour will allow them to reconsider this path they’ve been following in recent years.

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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.