And since reality execs get far fewer at-bats than their drama and comedy peers — NBC will have launched ten scripted shows by the end of this season, and just one new reality series — the stakes are that much higher. They say, 'Let's do stuff we've seen before'," one reality vet admits.
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"The shows that are working have become sports leagues," he says.
"They keep going and going and going in a way scripted shows don't." But while it's logical that nets would invest so much energy in keeping these old flames burning, limiting the number of new show launches makes it that much harder to come up with the next big success for when the old standbys finally fade.
and in this age, they're still doing a good number." And when you’ve got a hit, even if it’s not as strong as it used to be, it doesn’t make sense to let it go.
John Saade, ABC's executive VP in charge of alternative and late-night programming, says keeping these veteran series healthy has become "a big part" of the job for reality execs.
A cable network such as TLC produces hit after hit in part because it throws out dozens of reality concepts every year: For every Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, there are two or three flops like Sin City Rules or Starter Wives.
By contrast, the Big Four broadcasters will have unveiled just six unscripted concepts combined by the time the season ends in May: Four series (CBS's already-dead The Job; ABC's The Taste, Splash, and Bet on Your Baby; NBCs Ready for Love) and one special (Fox's Stars in Danger: The High Dive).
More than a decade after Survivor altered the TV landscape forever, reality TV continues to be a potent weapon for broadcasters: Last week, the top-rated shows on ABC, Fox, and NBC were all unscripted series. But while cable seems to invent a new reality phenom every other month, the Big Four haven't launched an unscripted success since 2011, the year of the Idol-inspired The Voice (NBC) and The X Factor (Fox).
But here's what's not so great: Those three shows — The Bachelor, American Idol, and The Biggest Loser — were all conceived during or before George W. CBS's last breakout reality hit was 2010's Undercover Boss, and ABC has been unable to come up with an unscripted game-changer since 2008's Wipeout, though 2009's Shark Tank has grown into a solid success over time.
ABC's Saade notes that at least one out of every two shows launched back in the early aughts would work, and he's probably being conservative. A dating show where suitors wore masks to hide their looks? In other words, taking chances wasn't actually all that risky.
Because reality had such a high rate of success, it was relatively easy for alternative execs to convince their bosses to roll the dice. But these days, network reality shows seem to have the same success/failure ratio as scripted series: Most fail, few break out big.
debut dozens of new series or specials every year, some of which come and go without anyone even noticing they were on.