On any given night, both broadcast and cable schedules will be clogged with backstabbers, hoarders, addicts, wannabe performers and chefs, damaged “celebrities,” and an endless array of cartoonish fame seekers. One-third of the fall network lineup is comprised of the format, with stalwarts like The Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser, and Survivor, and new entries The X Factor and H8R vying for audience. On cable, more networks than not, in fact, are populated with nonscripted shows, which is cheap to produce and tends to attract the younger-skewing audience advertisers covet.
Once considered filler for the dog days of summer, the genre has fragmented into an array of subcategories like competitions (singing, in particular) and docudramas.
But at its core it’s still about voyeurism, about gawking at the twisted as well as the relatable.
“The rise in shows featuring names like Kardashian or anyone from the Jersey Shore tends to resonate because nothing is sugarcoated,” says Billie Gold, vp, director of programming at Carat. “When you watch, you realize that no one’s life is perfect, and that actually makes you feel good about your existence.”
Here are more than two dozen planned fall and midseason entries on the broadcast networks (excluding newsmagazines and sports), and the most buzzworthy cable and summer entries.
America’s Got Talent (NBC)—summer
Unlike the host of singing competitions, the field is open for fame seekers of all stripes.
Big Brother (CBS)—summer
The ultimate in voyeurism, contestants see who can stay in the house the longest while under surveillance. Airing every summer since 2000.
So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)—summer
The night after American Idol concludes, So You Think You Can Dance kicks in.
Network Reality Stars
America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC)
What started as an inexpensive arena in 1990 for camcorder owners in search of 15 minutes of fame could outlive us all.
America’s Next Top Model (CW)
Once the crown jewel of UPN and The CW, Tyra Banks’ show is hoping its first all-star edition this fall reignites waning interest.
American Idol (Fox)—midseason
Ten years on the air and still a solid No. 1. No show in television history, scripted or non-scripted, has dominated to this degree so late into its run.
The Amazing Race (CBS)
Who needs to travel when you have this picturesque Emmy-winning worldwide race a remote click away?
America’s Most Wanted (Fox)
The long-running public service hour has been downgraded to a series of quarterly specials next season. Over 1,000 criminals have been caught to date thanks to John Walsh and company.
The Bachelor (ABC)
It’s “love” TV style, as an ongoing array of bachelors (and bachelorettes in the summer) allegedly look for the ideal mate in this sugary relationship-driven franchise.
The Biggest Loser (NBC)
Inspirational reality at its finest as contestants lose excess weight and improve their lifestyles—but the ratings are shedding as well.
Fortunately for Fox (and unfortunately for society), this is the one reality entry that will never run out of subject matter.
Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
Variety dances on with this series as more than 20 million viewers tune in each week.
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC)
Spun off from Extreme Makeover, needy individuals build a shiny new house each week.
Everyday people who can’t stand a particular celebrity are paired with that individual. In the sea of 25 new fall 2011 scripted projects (14 dramas, 11 sitcoms), this was a standout.
Hell’s Kitchen (Fox)
Ever wondered what exactly goes on in the kitchen at your favorite expensive restaurant? Meany chef Gordon Ramsay is happy to let you know.
Mobbed (Fox)—series of specials
It’s Candid Camera Howie Mandel style, as the energetic host and hundreds of strangers help special guests plan surprises for friends and family members.
Secret Millionaire (ABC)—midseason
Formerly a short-lived hour on Fox, Secret Millionaire stepped in for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and improved the Sunday 8 p.m. time period.
Shark Tank (ABC)
Budding entrepreneurs with ideas for businesses (they hope) can’t miss have their own weekly arena as the “sharks” invest in them or not.
The Sing-Off (NBC)
After two short-flight seasons airing in December, it’s time for a full-flown fall season launch. Is there room for yet another regularly scheduled singing competition?
Eleven years, 22 seasons, and no end in site. The obscure summer 2000 series is now one of the most durable non-scripted franchises in the history of television.
Undercover Boss (CBS)—midseason
After two seasons, wouldn’t you know that a camera crew in the workplace means that “new” employee you’re helping is the CEO?
The Voice (NBC)—midseason
In dire need of a breakout hit, NBC officially has one—and so does Christina Aguilera, one of the judges, who’s once again a hot ticket.
The X Factor (Fox)—new
Outspoken Simon Cowell takes on the fall season (along with his former Idol co-judge Paula Abdul) in this U.S. edition of the U.K. hit.
15 Cable Contenders
The Deadliest Catch (Discovery)
This docu-style hit covers events aboard fishing boats during the Alaskan crab seasons.
The Glee Project (Oxygen)
The popular Fox musical comedy morphs into a reality/competition as performer wannabes compete for a role on Glee.
Word of warning: Unless you have six hours to spare, never tune in for one of the marathon airings on A&E. It’s addictive.
House Hunters (HGTV)
No matter how many times you watch the same episode, you never seem to remember which house they chose.
Addictions of all kinds are addressed and documented in anticipation of the interventions.
Jersey Shore (MTV)
Say what you will, but Snooki, The Situation, and JWoww and company are the biggest names in the world of docudramas since the Osbournes. Get ready for endless spinoffs.
The Next Food Network Star (Food Network)
Food-related reality/competition expands with this hit that has contestants compete for their own series on the network.
Pawn Stars (History)
The daily goings-on of a Las Vegas-based family-owned pawn shop.
Project Runway (Lifetime)
Aspiring fashion designers compete for money and fashion-industry fame in this long-running competition that started on Bravo and moved to Lifetime.
The Real Housewives (Bravo)
This successful franchise gives viewers a look at the monied lives and over-the-top antics of this new breed of TV housewife.
Tabatha’s Salon Takeover (Bravo)
Former Shear Genius contestant and hair salon owner Tabatha Coffey helps failing salons turn around in a week.
Teen Mom (MTV)
Four young mothers struggle with the challenges of their first year of motherhood. Spunoff from 16 and Pregnant.
Top Chef (Bravo)
Competition series hit has chefs compete in a series of culinary challenges. Spinoffs to date are Top Chef: Masters and Top Chef: Just Desserts.