This past week was the final—and biggest—week of upfront presentations, where advertising-supported entertainment companies pitch their upcoming schedules and shows to advertisers. They do this in big presentations; CBS even created a mock Celebrity Survivor for its session. Meanwhile, we get a lot of news, all at once, about new and returning shows.
First, let’s look at broadcast TV. After a very abnormal fall 2020, broadcast TV networks—ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC—are returning to more typical fall schedules, with a lot of familiar scripted shows. As has been the case for years now, the broadcast networks’ fall schedules are light on reality TV, but it’s actually increasing: In 2016, there were just nine hours of unscripted on fall broadcast schedules; this year, it’s 15 hours:
- ABC: 8 hours (Two-hour episodes for Dancing with the Stars and a new fall Bachelorette, plus Shark Tank, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, and Supermarket Sweep
- NBC: 3 hours (all The Voice)
- Fox: 2 hours (The Masked Singer and Alter Ego on Wednesdays)
- CBS: 2 hours (Survivor 41 and Tough As Nails on Wednesdays)
But broadcast TV is only a small part of the television landscape now, with cable networks still churning out shows, and streaming services vying for our subscription fees.
Here are some of the reality TV and documentary television announcements from the week that stood out to me from cable and streaming services. (This is not a comprehensive list. There were so many announcements!)
Of all the reality shows announced this week, I’m most excited about Issa Rae’s reboot of Project Greenlight, which will be coming to HBO Max, and which I wrote an entire story about, that’s how excited I am.
And HBO Max also announced another reality show produced by Issa Rae’s production company that sounds really great, too: Sweet Life: Los Angeles, which “follows a group of young, strong-willed, ambitious Black friends showcasing their relatable, authentic and sometimes stumbling mid-20s moments as they embrace the joy and struggles of love and family, while building their careers as tastemakers and influencers in the city where they grew up,” according to a press release.
Bravo, E!, USA, and Oxygen
NBCUniversal’s cable channels announced 33 new reality shows. Bravo appears to just be throwing words together for its new series, such as Below Deck Adventure and Summer House Winter Charm (the new name for Winter House).
A few of the 33 that stood out to me:
- E!’s Clash of the Cover Bands, with Adam Lambert, Meghan Trainor, and Ester Dean judging and Stephen “tWitch” Boss hosting a competition between two cover bands. Two different bands in one genre will compete each episode.
- E’s revival of Showbiz Moms & Dads, which promises “social media influencers,” and that sounds so insufferable that I don’t know why I’m including it here. Oh wait: I confused it with Showdog Moms & Dads, which I’d rather see return.
- USA’s America’s Big Deal, which “invites inventors from across the nation to sell their products LIVE on-air and compete for the chance to strike a life-changing deal with a retail giant,” and “live sales numbers determining who stays and who goes.” Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano is involved in some capacity; the press release calls her “the mastermind behind the series.”
Peacock announced two new shows I am ready for right now:
- Baking It, a spin-off of Making It that has Amy Poehler hosting “a holiday event series where teams of two talented home bakers compete with their most delectable savory and sweet edible creations.”
- Top Chef Family Style, which is hosted by Meghan Trainor and judged by Marcus Samuelsson, and has kids paired with an adult family member to compete in Top Chef. The show is in production now; this week, its crew went on strike, which ended with a union contract for both production and post-production crew
Peacock has also ordered Below Deck Down Under, which will be filmed on a yacht in Australia, and American Ninja Warrior Junior season three. And of course, Peacock’s Real Housewives all-stars season is currently filming.
FX is mostly known for its dramas and comedies, and its unscripted shows have been true crime or much more straightforward documentaries.
So I’m really interested to see the show it just announced: Welcome to Wrexham. It follows actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, who bought the Welsh football team Wrexham AFC, and are now attempting to manage it, kind of like a reality TV version of Ted Lasso (although I don’t think either of them are the actual manager). FX has ordered two seasons.
Fox is all about “truth-telling-characters,” which means more Gordon Ramsay. His new show is called Next Level Chef, on which he and two other chefs will mentor non-professional cooks. Sound familiar? The most-interesting part to me is that one of those mentors is Top Chef alum Nyesha Arrington, and the second-most interesting part is the set:
…the series features a one-of-a-kind culinary gauntlet – which Chef Ramsay designed — set on an iconic stage like you’ve never seen. Over three stories high, each floor contains a stunningly different kitchen. From the glistening top floor to the challenging bottom of the basement, the ingredients will match the environment, because Ramsay believes the true test of a great chef is not only what they can do in the best of circumstances, but what kind of magic they can create in the worst! With a level playing field, Chef Ramsay has opened up the competition and scoured the country for the very best line cooks, home chefs, social media stars, food truck owners and everything in between, all competing against one and other with the goal of finding the food world’s newest superstar.
Fox is also continuing to photocopy The Masked Singer, pairing that show this fall with Alter Ego, on which singers will be “creating their dream avatar Alter Ego to reinvent themselves and perform like never before.” Okay.
Finally, their upfront presentation, Fox executive Charlie Collier teased “an unscripted project with Tom Brady,” but offered no other details.
I’m most excited that NBC is rebooting Password, and hope they take a page from ABC’s playbook and stay true to the classic version, rather than trying to update it. Alas, Jimmy Fallon is producing it, so it could end up bland and useless.
NBC also announced several new shows:
- American Song Contest, its own version of Eurovision, which I thought was called American Idol and on ABC
- Another America’s Got Talent spin-off, AGT: Extreme, which “will showcase the most outrageous and jaw-dropping daredevil acts.” No singers? I’m in!
- The Ava DuVernay-produced Home Sweet Home, which has “participants exchange homes for a week and experience the life of someone unlike them”
- A Jimmy Fallon-hosted spin-off of his Tonight Show musical games called That’s My Jam
- An import of the UK game show The Wheel
- A documentary reality series from Dick Wolf following LA Fire and Rescue
The Discovery Channel’s biggest new show is Who Wants To Be An Astronaut?, which will send its winner to the International Space Station. If it sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for that.
Discovery+ is reviving Ghost Hunters, with Jason Hawes, Steve Gonsalves, Dave Tango, and Shari DeBenedetti.
HGTV announced the perfectly titled Lil Jon Wants To Do What?, on which “Lil Jon offers skeptical homeowners startlingly unconventional renovation ideas that seem impossible to execute.” It’s airing this summer.
Most interesting/weird/completely fucked-up are Discovery Channel’s new dating series. Yes, Discovery is getting into dating reality TV:
- Naked and Afraid of Love, which follows “16 complete strangers – 8 single women and 8 single men – [who] attempt to find true love while working together to survive the elements and each other on an unforgettable island paradise.” Yeah, that sure does sound like paradise.
- Mating Season, a working title for a completely bizarre-sounding show on which “women and men will leave behind their human habits and attempt to find true love, animal style,” doing things like “choreographing the perfect mating ritual.” Who in the actual hell would do that, and why?
- Mountain Love, on which “people from cities and suburbs decide to move-in with their long-distance partners who live way, way off-grid in some of the most remote corners of the country”
TBS, TNT, truTV
Turner’s networks TBS, TNT, and truTV—which someone decided should be referred to as “TNets” (no), had some great news and some maybe-good, maybe-bad news.
First, truTV’s Fast Foodies, one of my favorite new shows this year, is returning for a second season with Top Chef alumn Kristen Kish, Justin Sutherland, and Jeremy Ford.
Also returning is TBS’s worthless Wipeout reboot, which is unbelievably bad—like, so bad it cuts away from people running on the course to show its bored hosts reading horribly scripted lines.
Anyway, the fact that it’s been renewed is not surprising, since its ratings have been decent. Let’s just hope Nicole Byer and John Cena or that someone, somewhere associated with this mess tries to improve it for season two.
CNN’s breakout series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy is returning for a second season, though it’s not clear when.
CNN has also renewed This is Life with Lisa Ling (which returns this fall) and United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell (which returns in 2022).
National Geographic and NatGeo Wild
National Geographic Channel is reinventing Brain Games yet again, this time taking it out of the studio for Brain Games on the Road, hosted by Chuck Nice. It’s also ordered:
- Called to the Wild, on which “three new teams of man or woman and their dogs embark on a 10-day wilderness challenge testing the limits of their survival skills and the strength of their indelible bond” in each episode.
- The Garth Brooks-narrated National Parks, which is also the name of a Ken Burns series, but NatGeo’s version is replacing history with an “up-close and personal feel of the most spectacular vistas and wildlife over 10 spectacular locations across the country,” according to a press release.
But mostly it’s sticking with what’s obviously working, renewing:
- Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted for season 4
- Running Wild with Bear Grylls for season 3
- Life Below Zero for season 15
- Life Below Zero: Next Generation for season 2
- Life Below Zero: Port Protection for season 4
- Wicked Tuna for season 11
- Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks for seasons 8 and 9
And so is NatGeo Wild, which has renewed: