Reality shows you should check out in July

Yes, summer has its reality series: the big ones are Big Brother and America’s Got Talent, and there are also shows such as American Ninja Warrior and The Bachelorette. But a bunch of new and returning shows, most on cable, are (or appear) worthy of sampling. We haven’t had a breakout hit this summer like last year’s terrific Naked and Afraid, but perhaps in this batch there will be such a show.

Here are preview of the shows I think are worthy of checking out; all summer debuts are on the summer schedule.

The Quest, ABC, July 31, Thursdays at 8. The first preview I saw of this both intrigued me and made me laugh dismissively. The queen/host/whatever was so comically bad when she talks about “Everrealm” that I thought it was a spoof. Also, my confidence in Betram Van Munster and Elise Doganieri creating a new genre of reality competition is sadly low, because he hasn’t exacty reinvented or improved The Amazing Race in recent years.

In a behind the scenes preview, which looks more promising, executive producer Michael Williams describes it as a “scripted fantasy world with unscripted reality contestants,” while Amazing Race creator Betram Van Munster talks about this being a “new genre” of reality television. Of course, we’ve seen hybrid shows like this over the years, but I was particularly intrigued by executive producer Rob Eric saying that Frodo’s quest in Lord of the Rings to mirrors the challenges a reality TV contestant might face.

While we don’t know exactly how the competition will be structured, beyond that there are challenges to find the “one true hero,” the production values look extremely strong, and it doesn’t look like a typical ABC show. This may be the show I’m most looking forward to this summer, because there’s a lot of potential here.

NY Med, ABC, June 24, Thursdays at 10. Two years after the first season with the same name, ABC returns to follow doctors, nurses, and patients at New York area hospitals. If the second season proves to be like the first–and the full first season is online–it will again be the opposite of ABC’s typical glossy, soapy, cheesy scripted and reality series. It’s a true documentary series, full of real-life drama and moments that are both uplifting and depressing, sad and hilarious.

Restaurant Startup, CNBC, July 8, Tuesdays at 10. CNBC, which has had success with both Shark Tank repeats and its original series The Profit, seems to be creating a hybrid of the two here: a show on which two groups of potential restauranteurs pitch their concept to investors–but then create pop-up versions of their restaurant concepts to test them, a la Top Chef‘s restaurant wars. It stars Masterchef‘s Joe Bastianich, who’s kind of one-note for me on that show, along with celebrity chef Tim Love, who appeared briefly on the first season of Top Chef Masters. Whether this will be something real and raw and interesting like Shark Tank and The Profit, or overwrought and

Cold Justice, TNT, June 20, Fridays at 9. This real-life murder mystery series is not just engrossing to watch as it follows a former prosecutor, Kelly Siegler, and a former crime scene investigator, Yolanda McClary, who help local law enforcement officials solve cold cases. It also has had an effect on those cases. The first episode last fall led to a murder confession, and other arrests, indictments, and confessions followed. If you haven’t watched before, full episodes are on YouTube.

Finally, on July 8, a brand-new network will launch. FYI replaces Bio, though I’m still not exactly sure what the network is about or who it’s for–A+E Networks describes it as a network that “embraces an adventurous, personalized and non-prescriptive approach to peoples’ taste, space, look, story and more” and “covers a range of stories and experiences that reflect how people actually live their lives today, not defined by just one passion or interest.”

Okay, but what is it? Still, several of its launch shows look really interesting, especially:

Married at First Sight, July 8, Tuesdays at 9. The Bachelor/ette in reverse, this show has matchmakers pair people who get married the second they meet, and then they decide if they want to stay together. It may be a stupid gimmick or it may be a fascinating social experiment. Here’s a preview.

Rowhouse Showdown, July 9, Wednesdays at 9. Former Trading Spaces carpenter Carter Oosterhouse hosts a show that follows three teams of designers who spend the entire season each redesigning “a delapidated rowhouse,” “one room each week.” It’s a home design show, but I like the twist of keeping all three teams for the entire season, and having each team focus on one house, one room at a time. The drama comes from Amazing Race-style pairs of people who not only know each other, but do this kind of work together–though there is a twist that allows the teams to affect each other. The first full episode is online

Tiny House Nation, July 9, Wednesdays at 10. A show about the trend of tiny houses, which will apparently both profile tiny houses and have its hosts help people construct tiny houses–ones that are less than 300 square feet. A house! For multiple people! Here’s a tiny preview.

Nathan For You, Comedy Central, July 1, Tuesdays at 10:30. This series is somewhere between a hidden camera show, though the cameras aren’t hidden, and outright parody of shows where an expert goes to help a failing business. Except here, Nathan Fielder, a former Canadian Idol interviewer, isn’t offering competent help, he’s offering hilarious help. At least, it’s hilarious if you find awkwardness to be funny, and Fielder’s ability to commit is what makes the show work, because it prompts sometimes even funnier reactions from the very real people he’s interacting with. It’s probably the kind of show you either love or loathe.

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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.