I consider myself to be a Reality TV fan. I enjoy the serial adventures of real people experiencing not-so-real things, all in the pursuit of money, fame, or the chance the beat the crap out of others. So it may surprise you to see me on the “scripted drama” side of the argument. But I think it’s true – scripted dramas WERE better. Let me show you why.
One of the things that reality shows allow for is a great deal of product to be created. And most of the time, it’s pretty bad. Still, a gem will usually emerge from the crowd to survive the upfronts and make it to the next season. This year, none of the shows survived. Even Fox, which put out such stellar shows as “The Next Great Champ”, “Rebel Billionaire” and “The Complex: Malibu” (by the way, how DO you manage to screw up a home renovation show? Aside from firing Paige Davis, I mean.) is shying away from new reality fare next year. Even reality TV king Mark Burnett served up a stinker, with The Contender.
Meanwhile, we seem to have a renaissance of sorts with the scripted drama. And shockingly, four successful shows have emerged from ABC – “Lost”, “Desperate Housewives”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Boston Legal”. This of course means that by this time next year, ABC will somehow kill any and all interest in the shows, but I digress. Creators seem to be putting more care into creating their shows, with success coming from having a show different from the norm – oddly enough, something that brought success to several reality shows in the past. Even procedurals such as “Medium” and “Numb3rs” have created their own spin on things – using the spiritual world and math to replace the legwork and forensics we’ve seen in the past.
Reality shows tend to rise and fall based on the strength of their cast for the seasons. And this year’s returning shows seem to reflect that. The casts of “The Apprentice” this year were by and large uninteresting (although people did have their moments) and as a result we didn’t see the type of relationship build that we got with the original. “Survivor: Vanuatu” was quite possibly the most boring season of the show I’ve seen. And “The Amazing Race 6” suffered from the loss of likable teams early in the show (was anyone not rooting for Kris and Jon to win?). “The Bachelor”… well, see my previous comment about ABC killing interest in their shows.
This isn’t to say that the shows were always bad. Witness the recently ended “Survivor: Palau” and “The Amazing Race 7” – the strong casts helped to maintain interest in shows that are formulaic in nature (not surprising, since they’re competitions). And “American Idol” is simply a juggernaut, with probably the perfect formula you can create for a singing show – come for the bad auditions, stay for the singers that don’t suck. And Scott Savol.
Meanwhile, returning dramas continue to produce great shows. Again, taking a page from reality shows, “24” and “Alias” have been airing new episodes every week, something that serial reality shows have always done. This has been a blessing for “24”, as it no longer benefits from having Idol as a lead in – the serial nature of the series lends itself to having new episodes week after week. Formulaic procedurals like CSI and Law & Order continue to find ways to ensnare us with new stories and not-always-happy endings.
Overall, I can’t really say that reality TV has been horrible. Rather, it’s simply been ok, with nothing really blowing me away as a standout season. But with good writing and some compelling new shows, I think that the scripted drama has made a comeback, and this year emerged as the better of the two.