There may not be a lot of reality television ahead on broadcast networks this fall (nine hours out of 91), but right now reality TV shows are absolutely dominating summer television.
First, some observations:
- America’s Got Talent remains summer’s most-watched show, period. Howard Stern’s exit and/or Simon Cowell’s addition to the judging panel didn’t affect that.
- ABC’s Sunday night game shows—including the $100,000 Pyramid and Match Game, plus —are a strong presence, dominating the top 20 and 25.
- Also dominating: Big Brother. Yes, the houseguests may be boring feed watchers, but that is not reflected in the ratings. It’s the third most-popular show on television, and all three episodes land in the top 10. (Those of us who would love to see it fully realize its potential are kidding ourselves if we think CBS has any reason to make any kind of changes. Viewers keep rewarding the show’s choices.)
- VH1’s Love & Hip Hop Atlanta is a top-10 show across all of television.
- So You Think You Can Dance, which turned into a kid competition this summer, isn’t in the top 25, but it may be holding on, thanks to DVRs: its ratings grow by 50 percent within a week of its broadcast.
- The human drama of the Olympics is already drawing more viewers than most scripted series, such as Fox’s Wayward Pines, ABC’s Mistresses, or CBS’ Zoo (none of which show up in the top 25 lists below).
The numbers: recent summer reality TV ratings
Let’s look at some specific, recent numbers.
First, a disclaimer: there are a lot of factors that go into whether or not a show is considered successful for a network, and shows that do not show up in the top 25 may still be lucrative successes because of how they perform in their timeslots. (More about that here.)
But these numbers make it clear that unscripted programming is dominating this summer.
From July 4 to July 10, across both broadcast and cable, among viewers 18 to 49, when both fireworks presentations and Olympic trials showed up in the top 25:
- 11 of the top 25 shows were reality or game shows.
- Every one of the top 10 shows was unscripted, including fireworks, soccer, and Olympics.
- Including the variety show Maya and Marty, just five of the top 25 were scripted series.
A week earlier, from June 27 to July 3, across broadcast and cable and also among viewers 18 to 49:
- seven of the top 10 shows were reality TV: America’s Got Talent, The Bachelorette, American Ninja Warrior, Big Brother (3 episodes), and Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.
- ABC had five different unscripted shows in the top 25.
- There were just four scripted series in the top 25. The other shows included Olympic trials, a NASCAR race, and WWE matches.
- nine of the top 10, and 16 of the top 25, broadcast shows were reality TV.
- three of the top five shows are Big Brother episodes.
- ABC has seven unscripted shows in the top 25, Fox has three, NBC has two (not counting Olympics), and CBS has one (though Big Brother shows up three times).
- 16 of the top 25 shows on cable—not including wrestling—were unscripted.
- nine of those 16 cable shows were documentary Shark Week specials on Discovery.
- The top three cable series were reality TV: Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and Black Ink Crew.
And people aren’t just DVRing scripted shows and waiting to watch them. For the week of June 20 to 26, DVR ratings—which measure the number of viewers 18 to 49 that were added thanks to delayed viewing—revealed:
- Six of the top 10 shows were reality TV.
- 16 of the top 25 were reality TV, and that does not include unscripted shows such as the gymnastics championship.
- Among total viewers, 14 of the top 25 were reality.