The best reality television shows on network television? It would certainly depend on what the typical viewer has in mind in terms of reality television programming. Reality television shows can focus on love, money, competition or a combination of all the above. In the end, reality television shows still have to win viewers over if they want to survive the network final cut. But which are the best current network reality television shows?
Many reality television shows have endured for some time now. Perennial powers like The Bachelor, Big Brother, Survivor and The Apprentice have found major success and have certainly built up huge audiences. Does a show like American Idol fall under the category of a reality television show? Sure the people are real on American Idol. I must exclude that show from this report card because its existence is based on live performances and not relationship building or the human element like other shows. For that reason, I am also excluding The Amazing Race, America’s Got Talent and Dancing With The Stars. Those shows are built on competition and not trying to find a peaceful coexistence with other participants in a reality based setting. So with that in mind, here is my report card for the best reality television shows on network television.
The drama on Big Brother is unlike many other shows. The irony for Big Brother is that the same power that makes the show successful also is the same power that makes people dislike the show. Greed is the ultimate theme. Contestants will lie, cheat or steal to win the money at the end of the day. It makes for terrific television but it certainly doesn’t leave viewers with a great outlook on relationships. But would you have it any other way? This great summer bonding experience is highlighted by a live eviction each week. The Big Brother formula doesn’t really allow for any spoilers to be leaked like we have seen from The Bachelor/The Bachelorette.
For that reason, this show grades out better than most reality television shows. What are the downfalls of this show? There are way too many episodes each week.
Viewers could probably get more with a 2 hour show one night and a 1 hour eviction on another. The way it is now viewers have to devote 3 days a week to Big Brother. Sometimes that’s a little much for even the DVR to comprehend. Big Brother still ranks high among other network reality television shows thanks to it’s access in other mediums like Showtime and Big Brother Online.
It’s the ultimate vicarious experience for viewers hoping to see the drama and tension in a wacky setting. Think of it as many mice trying to steer through the maze with the cheese being moved on a nightly basis. The game-play of Big Brother is the single biggest factor why Big Brother grades out the highest of all network reality television shows. Sometimes the stronger players do get the boot early and that often leaves a quite random winner at the end. The unpredictability of the show has to keep bringing viewers back. Viewers might also enjoy seeing just how low some people will go to win a stash of money. At the end of the day, it’s just good clean fun even though some feelings do get hurt.
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette/ABC
Why does The Bachelor/The Bachelorette grade lower than Big Brother? There are several reasons why this hit reality television show doesn’t quite make the grade that a show like Big Brother makes. I think the most critical reason why The Bachelor doesn’t get an A is because we have seen time and time again that many many participants go on the show seeking fame under the false pretense of love. The Bachelor typically turns into a few participants becoming wannabe actors or actresses. By the end of the show, we don’t truly know if what we have witnessed is real, scripted or a combination of both. That would probably be just fine if we weren’t being told otherwise. Maybe the tricky editing of The Bachelor leads us to believe that someone is a bit more villainous than they truly are. In any sense, The Bachelor often confuses viewers by picking moments of controversy and completely exploiting those moments for the benefit of ratings and the show. As viewers, who could blame them for utilizing those moments that are more captivating? You certainly can’t but at the same time sometimes the hype simply outweighs what actually has transpired.
I still believe that The Bachelor series is one of the greatest reality television shows ever created. I just don’t feel as if it should grade out in comparison to a show where we actually know that the contestants are greedy and looking for fame and money. If relationships finally started to last post The Bachelor, I think I would start to believe the show has a bit more validity. Maybe the alcohol, beautiful vacation spots and competition makes these young handsome and good looking participants think they are falling in love. Whatever the case, repetition of watching the show and seeing the couples fade into oblivion would tell the viewers that this show sometimes represents something completely different than what is actually happening.
So why does The Bachelor grade so high? Let’s face it. The drama on the show, even if perpetuated a bit by the producers or alcohol, is priceless. The show still delivers reality drama like no other. The fact that the possibility of love is hinging on the decisions made by a potential Bachelor or Bachelorette always leaves viewers with a feeling of hopefulness or hopelessness. Living vicariously through a bachelor or bachelorette who gets dumped or finds the man or woman of their dreams is still good clean fun. Plus the women and men are all typically beauty queens or models. It probably wouldn’t make for compelling television but it would certainly be nice to see an average looking or even below average looking individual have the opportunity to be on the competition.
Maybe that was the entire Bob Guiney season. Remember when 25 women completely lost their mind and truly believed he was the hottest thing since sliced Brad Pitt?
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette will probably run for years even well past the days that Chris Harrison hosted it. If there is anything rock solid about that franchise, it’s the fact that the “thought of finding true love” will always excite those who believe it is a possibility. The fact that viewers get to see women and men act “catty” while pursuing those interests is yet another reason to watch.
Survivor is a reality television show where participants truly have to survive several weeks of starving and winning competitions. There probably isn’t a stronger test of will in terms of reality television. Many Big Brother and many The Bachelor participants would fail miserably on Survivor. Why does it grade lower than those shows? In my opinion, it’s awesome to see people who will go through these conditions for the chance to win a huge stash of money. But at the same token, I sometimes hate watching people starve and whittle away. I think the show is absolutely unhealthy on many fronts. Vicariously it is fun to watch if you can get past the fact that people eat bugs, risk infections and injury and become rail thin through the course of a show. With that said, I truly love the camaraderie that is built between participants on the show.
At the same time, I also despise the backstabbing when people who aren’t truly athletic fail in competitions. I am not sure people who are eating very little and out in the heat for long periods of time can still make semi-educated decisions on who to cast off or not.
The premise of Survivor is good but I think only a select group of people will watch every single series. Despite the fact the show has won several awards, I think once you have seen one Survivor you have seen the majority of the Survivor seasons. It’s still great reality television programming but I think it fails in comparison to the other shows in terms of empathizing with the participants. We all know what it’s like to be in a personality conflict. But how many of us know what it feels like to eat a bug to win a competition? For that reason, I think Survivor can only guarantee a niche group of viewers for years to come. The audience will eventually fade unless the show figures out a way reboot it like American Idol plans to do.
Celebrity Apprentice/The Apprentice NBC
Why does Celebrity Apprentice grade so low? Let’s start with Donald Trump. My problem with the formula for the show-how about an extremely rich guy making random decisions to eliminate contestants on a reality television competition? I hate the premise that “The Donald” can fire someone for saying something he deems inappropriate-regardless of how that individual did in a competition. Donald fired Gene Simmons before we even got the opportunity to see him do a couple of tasks during one season of The Apprentice. Donald Trump also sometimes selects the person who is a little more mean spirited. It’s tough to watch an extremely nice and devoted country music star lose to a pompous NBC on-air talent because Trump considers one to be tougher than the other. In other words, the person who wins is the best fit for Trump and not always the best competitor. It’s kind of hard to relate for the average person.
With that said, I still think The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice has provided incredible entertainment value over the past few years. Brett Michaels win was certainly an emotional moment that made viewers rightfully want to stand up and cheer. It was one of the defining moments for the show in its existence.
What else bugs me about The Celebrity Apprentice? I would like to see actual celebrities instead of some people who have had their careers fade into oblivion. The name recognition from The Celebrity Apprentice is not always that good. What that show does for the careers of those individuals is certainly more powerful than what those individuals do for the show. It would be nice to see more Joan Rivers, Gene Simmons and Sharon Osbourne types on the show. It certainly hurts the credibility of the show when typically one or two of the so-called celebrities are someone we have probably never heard of as a viewing audience. I think the non-celeb Apprentice was a little more intriguing in terms of the human element.
Both shows are compelling television overall. Although the 2 hour marathon on Sunday nights is extremely too long each week. The Celebrity Apprentice would be better served with a 1 hour show even if some moments are cut each week. Each week I find myself wondering why these shows have a 2 hour duration. Do we really need to hear son and daughter nodding and agreeing that their dad is a genius? Cut that part out, please! The repitition of the agreement and kiss up moment is worthless. Of course they agree. Have they ever not agreed with a Trump decision? It’s pointless. “You made the right call!” “That was an obvious one.”
It’s like a broken record. The formula for The Apprentice could certainly use some tweaking heading into another season. For that reason, I think the show has dropped from a B to a C over the course of the last several years.
Those are my grades for some of the major reality television shows on network TV right now. I believe that overall all of the above shows are extremely watchable and entertaining. Big Brother is by far my guilty pleasure based on the human relationships that are forged in what is typically an extremely stressful situation. I think Big Brother is the best reality television show on network TV right now for a variety of reasons. The Bachelor is a close second and would be graded higher if The Bachelor spoilers didn’t sometimes ruin the finales and people weren’t acting as if they are truly interested in another human being when they obviously aren’t. I think Survivor would be much more watchable if people weren’t often completely miserable. In other words, if I want to live vicariously I would rather find love or win money without that much of an emotionally and physically draining experience. The Apprentice is still a fun show but I believe several changes could help the show fly by instead of dragging out on a nightly basis. I often find myself watching the clock with The Apprentice in comparison to the other reality shows mentioned in this column. Fastforward isn’t always a bad button.
I also wish there were some mathematical formula or other participant vote to get people off the show. Trump sometimes is his own worst enemy(Gene Simmons for example) in eliminating the people who are potentially the most watchable.