For rookies, summer reality bites

New unscripted shows are struggling

When it comes to the reality shows that have become a staple of the networks’ summer skeds, auds are opting for familiar over fresh.

A few weeks into the summer season, it’s been rough sledding for virtually every new unscripted skein. At the same time, though, returning shows like Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” are dominant performers.

While this proves the nets are wise to practice patience with shows that exhibit any real summer spark, it also shows that in a crowded marketplace, it helps to put on programs that millions of viewers already know.

Fox, which finished the regular season in May with a flourish thanks to “American Idol,” is the net with the most heat so far this summer. Using the megahit music competish as a promotional launching pad, it has successfully brought back both “Dance” and “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Also, midseason quizzer “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” has continued into the summer with originals that are performing well.

“Dance,” perhaps benefiting from the rising popularity of ABC’s in-season smash “Dancing With the Stars,” has excelled on both Wednesday and Thursday, up vs. last year and drawing 12 and 13 shares in adults 18-49. And “Kitchen,” after opening to a 10 share, quickly rose to a 12 and is shaping up to be the hottest entree on Monday.

Fox’s strong summer start has been accomplished despite the season’s most high-profile flop, Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett’s “On the Lot.” Search for the next great Hollywood helmer has settled for 4 and 5 shares and was scaled back to one night.

Like Fox, NBC is off to a good start with one of last season’s solid performers, “America’s Got Talent.” With Jerry Springer taking over the hosting duties from Regis Philbin, it has delivered a 12 share its first two times out on Tuesday, winning its timeslot.

Another Peacock summer vet, “Last Comic Standing” opened to an 8 share last week — a good but not great premiere for a show that has the tough task of going up against Fox’s “Dance.”

CBS has walked the Nielsen plank with its lone unscripted entry, the “Survivor”-like “Pirate Master.” Its 7 share is decent but not enough to keep it on Thursday nights; Eye is sending “Pirate” to Tuesdays in a couple of weeks.

“Pirate” makes room for “Big Brother,” the longest-running summer staple on any net, back for its eighth edition July 5.

ABC tanked with “Fast Cars & Superstars” (4 share) and did only a bit better with “Ex-Wives Club” (5 share) and “National Bingo Night” (5). Its best news has come on Wednesday, where new celeb-impersonator show “The Next Best Thing” — the only newbie to show a pulse so far — has averaged an 8 share. Behind it, the second season of “American Inventor” has settled in at a solid 7 share, but is in a crowded hour with Fox’s “Dance” and NBC’s “Comic.”

As for new reality entries still to come, NBC has a twist on the “Bachelor”/”Average Joe” genre with “Age of Love,” in which a 30-year-old man chooses between women in their 20s and 40s. And ABC is hopping aboard the weight-loss bus of “Biggest Loser” with “Shaq’s Big Challenge,” in which the basketball superstar helps obese kids shed pounds.

Neither of these is especially original, but if they pull in even a 7 share, don’t be surprised to see them return a year from now.

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