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Are networks really cutting back on reality shows?


By Wade Paulsen, 11/10/2003 

Despite the strong performance of reality TV shows during the 2002-03 season, the sic U.S. television networks resolved to cut reality shows from their 2003-04 schedule when they sold commercial time for the season. So how well are those promises holding up?

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Mediaweek.com reports that last year, the networks were airing 4.5 hours of reality programming at this time. This year, following the launch of NBC's Average Joe, the networks are airing seven hours: Fox has two hours of The Next Joe Millionaire on Mondays, NBC has two hours of Fear Factor and Average Joe, ABC has two hours of Extreme Makeovers and The Bachelor 4, and CBS has one hour of Survivor.

Following the conclusion of both Joe Millionaire and The Bachelor this month, Fox will debut The Simple Life -- which means that the level will fall back, but only to last year's 4.5 hours, with more reality coming later in the season, including new shows such as Fox's The Complex and returning shows such as The WB's High School Reunion 2 and The Surreal Life 2 ... not to mention Fox's American Idol 3.

So ... are the networks living up to their statements to the media buyers? Depends upon who you ask. For example, the VP/director of programming at Carat USA said that "the networks' claim of 'no more reality' is akin to politicians saying no to higher taxes." By contrast, the research supervisor at Initiative said, "From what we're seeing, the networks are living up to their promise." Maybe we could get the Democratic presidential candidates to debate it.

Another media buyer, the senior VP/director of broadcast negotiations at Campbell Mithun, took a realistic view of the situation. "As a short-term stopgap measure, reality can be employed to bridge between cancelled and new scripted series. [However,] the entire economic model of the business is still focused on [fiction] programs being successful."

It appears that Survivor executive producer Mark Burnett must agree, since he is trying to move into sitcom production. Nevertheless, apparently young adult viewers don't care about TV's economic model, since they continue to abandon scripted TV. Uh, when we were in economics classes, we seem to remember hearing that the surest way to failure is giving the public what it used to want ... after it's moved on to wanting something else.








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