Rumors of reality TV’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, according to panelists at Wednesday’s Hollywood Radio and TV Society luncheon.
With several new reality skeins failing out of the gate — and some returning shows (like “The Bachelor”) posting declines, reality has received its fair share of knocks this fall. But reality producers and execs, gathered for the HRTS event at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, said they still believed in the vitality of the genre.
“The halcyon days of ‘anything reality works’ have faded,” said Endemol USA prexy David Goldberg. “But I think when you look at ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ and ‘The Apprentice,’ (shows) that are working today, (it) shows that the genre is still very viable.”
Legendary TV producer Chuck Barris said he’s seen the popularity of unscripted fare ebb and flow quite a few times through the years.
“Reality shows are basically gameshows, and gameshows are reciprocal,” he said. “If (the genre) dips, it will certainly come up again.”
Reveille CEO Ben Silverman said reality TV continues to evolve, with comedic-themed shows growing in vogue.
“The real story of the fall is derivative programming doesn’t work,” Silverman said. “I think you are going to see a lot of blended concepts. As much as we define this genre as reality, so much of it is constructed. I think there is huge opportunity” for the return of programs like “The Gong Show,” “Candid Camera” and hoax shows.
MediaCom U.S. chairman Jon Mandel took a contrarian approach, however, arguing that advertisers may be facing problems with the reality genre.
“If you look at the minute-by-minute ratings for these shows from an advertising perspective, you may as well be buying the NBA,” Mandel said. “If your commercial isn’t in the last 10 minutes, it’s not so great.”
Mandel said he was also concerned with the use of too much product placement.
“You have got to limit us because (advertisers) are putting too much money into this, and we are going to ruin the whole process,” Mandel said. “Americans aren’t stupid. They don’t want to watch commercials. We know that. So they avoid my commercials. So now you are going to put my commercials in the (reality) show. Save me from myself — please.”
As for the hot-button issue of “concept theft,” Goldberg — whose company produced “The Next Great Champ,” a show accused of copying NBC’s “The Contender” — said he didn’t think there was such a thing as an exclusive lock on a genre.
“If that were the case there would be one musical performance show, one extreme stunt show, one makeover show and so on,” he said. I don’t think that anybody can have a lock on a genre by saying we are doing a show that hasn’t been produced and it isn’t based on an existing format and therefore it is ours. I just don’t buy that philosophy.”
Producer Allison Grodner and Andrea Wong, ABC exec VP of alternative programming, specials and latenight, were also on the panel.