Why reality TV is stagnant on broadcast networks

Why have there been no new hit reality shows on the major broadcast networks–ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC–in the past few years? Joe Adalian reports for Vulture and offers informed theories about why broadcast networks can’t (or won’t) make a new reality hit.

Fascinatingly, he notes that there will be just six new reality series–including Fox’s one-off knock-off of ABC’s Splash, the competition that debuts tonight–by the end of the season. Six! Between four networks! That’s because network executives are risk-averse. Also, they don’t have much room to play with, since networks don’t get as much money from advertisers for reality, and their existing shows take up a big chunk of the one-third to one-quarter of the schedule they devote to reality.

The story is worth a read for Adalian’s insight, and that of the network executives and producers he interviewed, and I’m not just saying that because he also interviewed me.

Overall, Adalian suggests there are five reasons why they: 1. Networks really try that often, 2. They make safe choices and don’t take risks, 3. Cable is doing a much better job, 4. Broadcast networks keep going back to the same few producers instead of giving others a chance, and 5. They’re ignoring documentary-style series that are so popular and successful on cable.

Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if, but when a broadcast network will try something truly new that will really take off, and putting celebrities into a competition is not something new. But they have to be willing to embrace failure first.

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.