The major networks just hosted another upfront week, and once again there was an uninvited guest. That would be reality TV, arguably primetime's dominant genre, ratings-wise, conspicuous by its absence.
More than a decade after "Survivor" and "Big Brother" ushered in the modern unscripted era, such programming still remains an outcast -- treated at the upfronts a bit like the wife in "
If this sounds like an exaggeration, consider the following: The five English-language broadcasters presented 28 new series for fall. Of those, only two were unscripted: "The X Factor," Fox's long-in-the-works Eve to "American Idol's" Adam; and "H8R," a CW companion to "America's Next Top Model." Does anybody really think reality TV is going to account for just 7 percent of the networks' new programs next season? Yet this annual sleight-of-hand routine continues, as media buyers -- who look younger every year -- play along. It would almost be like the Lakers starting
While the non-pros might generate goodwill before tipoff, let's face it, they're not going to stay in the game long before the likes of what's-his-name, Mr.
Factions within the
Eventually, one would think the reality producers networks rely upon so heavily would demand more respect. The academy has tapped
Complaining about a reality show being staged or feeling fake at this point feels like a waste of time. Better to simply review what's on the screen than try to expose the artifice involved. In addition, outlets eager to deliver Web traffic and younger audiences can't exactly turn their noses up at the one genre that consistently attracts both in impressive numbers. Sure, "Chuck" might have its loyalists, but it's much easier to start a water-cooler conversation around "Idol" or "Dancing With the Stars."
The latest blow to reality's image, meanwhile, came from an unexpected quarter -- namely, politics.
Like their scripted brethren, the genre's creative titans have egos (some bigger than others) and doubtless would like to be recognized for their all-star-level ratings contributions, as opposed to just being the relief pitcher grudgingly summoned when the starter's arm gives out. Until then, each spring reality takes its place in an over-sized closet -- overlooked, perhaps, but no less indispensable. And despite the fiction of keeping reality in the shadows as networks seek to present the most saleable lineups, if recent history is any indication, they won't stay hidden for long.
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