Celebrities Get A Taste Of Reality

Next to this summer’s dance craze, celebrity-driven documentary shows are proving to be reality’s strongest new subgenre. At least on cable. Bravo’s Being Bobby Brown is the network’s top-rated launch this season, averaging 1.1 million viewers. VH1 already has renewed its Hulk Hogan series Hogan Knows Best, averaging nearly 1.9 million viewers. And on Aug. 16, the format gets a broadcast test-drive when NBC launches Tommy Lee Goes to College.

Ironically, reality’s initial lure revolved around its focus on regular folks. But most programmers agree that viewers have a near-insatiable hunger for celebrity. “The deeper access you can find into celebrities’ lives, the greater the appetite it seems to create,” said Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick.

The continued strength of shows like American Idol suggests viewers have yet to grow bored with seeing themselves on TV. But several execs observed that celebrity-based shows offer networks a shortcut to success. “In a regular reality series, networks need to take the time to make sure viewers get to know one or more characters,” said Frances Page, principal of strategy and business affairs at Magna Global. “But when you have a well-known personality already installed in a show, they can lean on a character that viewers already know.”

Because the bar for success is set higher for broadcast than cable, Page said the star caliber needs to be higher. “There are things you have to solve differently for the networks,” she said. “There’s a bigger burden for a compelling story line. So to carry a show, you need someone who’s pretty intriguing.”