SUMMER GETTING LESS REAL? Alongside weirdly compelling headlines such as “German Quiz Shows Fading,” Friday’s Variety featured a story on this summer’s anaemic reality TV performance, which featured such disappointments as Mark Burnett’s Pirate Master and On The Lot, along with a raft of indistinguishable titles like Fat March, The Ex-Wives Club, The Next Best Thing, Fast Cars and Superstars, Shaq’s Big Challenge, Set For Life and National Bingo Night, with most of these ratings bring-downs coming from one network alone – ABC.
While proven hits like Hell’s Kitchen and So You Think You Can Dance held steady, almost every new reality show either stumbled right out of the gate or cooled down considerably with each successive week after their debut. It’s not all doom and gloom – as Variety pointed out, a reality flop is a lot less expensive than a scripted show that bombs, though that probably isn’t true across the board.
While on vacation in Nova Scotia this summer, I heard several of the crew on the Lunenburg-berthed three-master barque Picton Castle talk about being the oceangoing set for Pirate Master, and the impressive sums of money spent on that series every day, as well as the often comic attempts at secrecy employed by the show’s producers, which included leaving the ship’s crew bobbing and sweltering in a boat while they filmed the show’s finale. All for naught, apparently – back on board, the crew could hear the show’s cast joking about who won. And yeah – big shock: the cast of Pirate Master didn’t actually sail the ship. You didn’t have to be the show’s insurer to figure that one out, did you?
The Variety story speculated on several possible reasons for the chilly reception reality TV is suddenly getting during the once-hospitable summer months, which included an overcrowded field, too many copycats (Don’t Forget The Lyrics vs. The Singing Bee – which to choose?), and the continued rise of cable and scripted shows like Entourage and Rescue Me, which – if true – means that the conventional wisdom about the unpopularity of serial storylines during the light-as-ether summer months might be merely a fable, told to comfort anxious network executives who have trouble sleeping at night.
“I think it all works in cycles,” said none other than Fox reality TV guru Mike Darnell, recently promoted to president of alternative entertainment at the network in what’s rumoured to be an attempt to keep him from defecting to NBC. “The audience gets tired when there are too many shows in a genre. So right now, game shows and variety shows are working. Soon, we’ll have to move on to another genre.”
I’m holding out for the return of bloated, star-studded TV movie “events” about natural disasters and apocalyptic scenarios where everyone runs around looking disheveled but photogenic. Either that or the return of Battle Of The Network Stars, mostly because I’d really like to see Masi Oka kick Zach Braff in the nuts while jousting on tricycles. That and Ali Larter on a trampoline. Don’t lie – you were thinking about it, too.