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Fox bows Reality

But auds may be tiring of the genre

With mob daughter Victoria Gotti’s docudrama and “Survivor” still going strong, a 24-hour network devoted to reality sounds like a no-brainer. And News Corp. will be the first out of the gate when Fox Reality debuts in almost 20 million homes later this month.

But with original reality popping up all over the cablespace, a channel full of repeats suddenly doesn’t sound so hot.

With the cooling of the genre on the broadcast webs, Fox Reality will be in line for shows from its cable brethren — and they have already run the sprockets off their originals.

TLC’s “Trading Spaces” overdose is well documented, and “Queer Eye” has lost some of its luster now that Bravo runs the show more than a dozen times each week. MTV’s “Real World” franchise, a rare exception to the rule, is only now starting to show wear in its 16th incarnation.

A library of procedurals may keep TNT on top, and SoapNet does well with serialize sudsers. Non-fiction fare, however, has a track record of underperforming in its second and third outings. To date, only one broadcast reality show, “Fear Factor,” has been sold into syndication.

But Fox Reality general manager David Lyle explains the network will offer more than just shows.

“All our programming will be sandwiched between interstitials, behind-the-scenes features and ‘where are they now’ segments,” he says. “It’s really akin to seeing a movie and then buying the DVD. You already know what’s going to happen, but you buy it because you liked it and there are extras.”

Lifetime head of research Tim Brooks describes reality’s repeatability as a mixed bag.

“Docudramas and how-to shows do OK. But some of the contest-oriented stuff doesn’t seem to repeat well even during its first run,” he says.

“We’re six years into the reality era of television. So we’ve begun to see more failures and a lot of sameness,” Brooks adds. “I think the genre will melt down to the appropriate cable networks.”

“The timing is all wrong,” says one media analyst. “I’m sure three years ago, it was a great idea, but it’s pretty clear that we’re past the peak of the reality craze.”

But even Nick at Nite/TV Land and Turner cablers TNT and TBS — networks that have thrived on the strength of libraries and aggregated product — have found it necessary to play in the reality arena.

TV Land’s “Chasing Farrah” did solid ratings, but more important, brought buzz to the channel. And reality stars still tend to take up prominent space in tabloids and glossies.

Fox Reality plans to grab onto some that buzz with its own originals come next year.

Lyle admits, “The bad news for us is that there are a lot of people doing a lot of reality. But it just means we have to be different.

“But the bigger and more important message for us is that reality is alive and well,” he concludes.

Another analyst pointed out: “Fox Reality needs just a fraction of the ratings a broadcast network does to be successful, so it could be viable.”

Steve Sternberg, exec VP at media buying firm Magna Global, agrees.

“Especially in the beginning, ratings expectations will be modest. The bigger question for clients will be what kind of audience this channel attracts. Yes, there are content issues with certain reality shows, but other attract a rather upscale audience,” he says. “Also, because these shows will be on cable – as opposed to broadcast – a lot of those content issues may evaporate.”

When the cabler bows May 24, its primetime lineup will include broadcast hits “Joe Millionaire,” “Last Comic Standing” and “Love Cruise.”

One rival cable exec says, “Fox doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“Fox Reality will wind up working for them, whether they sell the channel internationally and profit that way, or simply enrich their DirecTV platform. History is on their side.”

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