Reality TV remains a program potpourri

The decision a few years ago by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to separate reality competition programs from noncompetition shows was met with applause. The problem, however, is there aren’t many competition shows, so the majority of reality programs are still lumped into one massive incongruous category.

“It’s a pretty eclectic group. I don’t know how they nominate or how they even choose which show goes into what category. I’m just happy to be here,” says Craig Piligian, exec producer of “Dirty Jobs.”

Eclectic might be a bit of an understatement given this year’s nominees: “Antiques Roadshow,” “Dirty Jobs,” “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” “Mythbusters” and “Undercover Boss.”

“When you look at the nominees, it’s like comparing apples to oranges to bananas. It’s off the spectrum,” says Craig Armstrong, exec producer of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.”

How can a PBS series with no real advertising budget campaign for votes against two broadcasters, Discovery Channel and Kathy Griffin’s full-page, retro-cheesecake for-your-consideration ads? And how can personality-driven shows be judged against programs focused on ordinary people?

“It’s always hard with us as to where we should be, and I’m sure other shows in the category are saying the same thing,” says Marsha Bemko, exec producer of “Antiques Roadshow,” an eight-time nominee.

No matter how the TV Acad divvies up the overcrowded reality field, it continually proves to be a challenge to find a proper place for many shows.

“While the Emmys have gotten better at categorizing and recognizing reality TV shows, outstanding reality program is ultimately a joke of a category,” says Andy Dehnart, editor of website Reality Blurred. “Some of the series nominated — ‘Dirty Jobs,’ ‘My Life on the D-List’ — are worthy of recognition, but they’re so different from one another that comparison is very difficult.”

Nominees seem to agree the reason for this confusing hodgepodge is because reality, in Emmy terms, is still a fairly new and ever-evolving category.

“It’s just recently that they decided to give (reality competition) hosts an award,” Armstrong says. “The rest of reality seems to be lumped together, like they’re not really sure how to define it or say where it belongs. I think that will eventually change as the genre and the notion of reality continues to grow and expand.”

Nominees aren’t the only ones who think more changes are needed to level the reality show playing field.

“The Emmys will eventually need to narrow the types of shows in the category, or just create a third category,” Dehnart says. “Even then, you might have competition between character- and narrative-driven series, which are difficult to compare, just as it would be difficult to compare personality-driven series like those starring Kathy Griffin and Mike Rowe.”

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