Series, specials vie for voter attention

REALITY PROGRAM

  • “American Chopper: Senior Vs. Junior” (Discovery): Riveting family conflict jump-starts long-running “Chopper” series with ratings strong enough to move the show from TLC back to Discovery.

  • American Pickers (History): Junk finders continue to fatten coffers and make the idea of antique hunting cool to a younger generation.

  • Antiques Roadshow (PBS): Venerable series continues its strong appeal for attic-emptiers (vicarious and otherwise) who dream of holding treasure.

  • “Ax Men” (History): The trees, and stakes, keep getting bigger, posting record ratings and epic risks.

  • “Coming Home” (Lifetime): The series hits all the right emotional notes as members of the military are reunited with their family back in the States.

  • “Deadliest Catch” (Discovery): Show sends out the late great Captain Phil with dignity and no small amount of drama. Best season yet.

  • “Dirty Jobs” (Discovery): Unemployment rates and a 150-episode run haven’t dulled host Mike Rowe’s enthusiasm for finding the planet’s most disgusting jobs.

  • “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” (A&E): The KISS vocalist and bass guitar player has almost as much fun with his family as he does on stage, though his wife and kids probably don’t worship him as much as concert audiences.

  • “Gold Rush: Alaska” (Discovery): Irresistibly taps into current gold fever with its look at seven men who leave their families for the wilds of Alaska and the hope of instant wealth.

  • “Intervention” (A&E): Ten seasons, a recent Emmy and a continued knack for finding compelling people who need help.

  • “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (ABC): Ratings dip, but pushy Brit’s battles to reform L.A. school lunches proves more addictive than the white sugar found in cafeteria meals.

  • “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” (Bravo): Having graduated to the A-list, two-time Emmy winner ends trash-talking run with signature mix of shock and awe.

  • “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” (E!): Their names start with K. The ratings still hold sway, much to some people’s dismay. E! says what the hey. More grandchildren on the way?

  • “Mythbusters” (Discovery): Do humans only use 10% of their brains? Not the humans who produce this still entertaining program of debunkery.

  • “Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy” (History): Sleeve-phobic redneck brings his humor and a genuine interest to the stories he uncovers while traveling the States.

  • “Pawn Stars” (History): Vegas pawn shop might not be typical of the industry, but then your seedy, garden-variety store wouldn’t attract the biggest audience in the history of History.

  • “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” (Showtime): Eight years of unvarnished skepticism culminates with a season that expertly balances kooky and serious topics.

  • The Real L Word (Showtime): Less erratic than its fictional counterpart with all the sex its audience expects and demands.

  • “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” (TLC): Populist politician reveals her treasured Alaska, her rooted family life and the proper technique for kissing a moose.

  • “Secret Millionaire” (ABC): Back on the air at ABC after failing at Fox, series gives those who have plenty of cash a chance to benefit those who have very little.

  • Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes (OWN): We learn that off-script Oprah is more fun than what we see on air and that her producers may be the real stars of the series.

  • “Sister Wives” (TLC): Polygamist family drama ramps up tension in second season, following the legal repercussions of making their lifestyle public.

  • “Teen Mom” and “Teen Mom 2″ (MTV): Rare is the reality show where life-changing information affects auds, but the lessons learned — often too late — hopefully are changing the thought process of young women watching.

  • “Top Gear” (History): Nothing lost in the translation of this adaptation of popular Brit car show, which keeps the blend of banter and gearhead gimmickry intact.

  • “Undercover Boss” (CBS): Gimmicky, but irresistible celebration of working stiffs’ humility and hard work and CEOs’ cluelessness.

NONFICTION PROGRAMMING

  • “30 for 30″ (ESPN): Wide-ranging sports docs vary wildly in quality, but, at its best, the series adds insight and context to the games and their stars.

  • Beyond Scared Straight (A&E): Tackled juvenile rehab program with a seriousness that managed to transcend the long history of parodies and make it relevant again.

  • “Fashion Police” (E!): Because someone has to keep up with what’s glam or sham and, really, we don’t have the energy to do it.

  • “Hardcore Pawn” (History): Successfully differentiates itself from “Pawn Stars” by focusing on the conflicts — and there are plenty — between staff and customers.

  • “Oprah Presents Master Class” (OWN): Oprah trots out bios of celebrities who inspire with “clarity and purpose.” More often than not, she makes her case.

  • “Our America With Lisa Ling” (OWN): Inquisitive former “View” co-host takes an intelligent, empathetic look at groups occupying America’s margins.

  • “Storm Chasers” (Discovery): Four seasons in, these guys have really honed their ability to find twisters, which, of course, ramps up the danger and intensity.

  • “Swamp People” (History): Delivers wall-to-wall action as fathers and sons bond while hunting gators and trying to avoid becoming the catch of the day.

  • “Who Do You Think You Are?” (NBC): Show follows celebrities poking into the past, resulting in profound discoveries that somehow avoid manipulative sentimentality.

NONFICTION SPECIAL

  • “Becoming Chaz” (OWN): Sundance sensation offers a sensitive, funny and awareness-raising look at Chastity Bono’s gender makeover.

  • “For Neda” (HBO): Docu, about the life and death of an independent-minded Iranian woman Neda Agha-Soltan, fought against the regime, just won a Peabody Award.

  • “Gettysburg” (History): Nothing left to learn about the Civil War’s most famous battle? Ridley and Tony Scott don’t agree, producing a feature heavy on info and wartime terror.

  • “His Way” (HBO): Garrulous producer tells his favorite Hollywood stories about his ring-a-ding-ding life in showbiz.

  • “Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood” (TCM): Seven-part series meticulously defines the hard-driving men who built the film industry.

  • “Paris: The Luminous Years” (PBS): Doc makes a persuasive case for the City of Light as the catalyst for early 20th century’s explosion of outstanding artistic expression.

  • “The Promise” (HBO): A rare inside-the-studio look at one of Bruce Springsteen’s most seminal albums: “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” In critical terms, it was boss, man.

  • “Spike Lee’s If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise” (HBO): Lee gives voice to those affected by Hurricane Katrina in a deeply moving portrait of devastation.

  • “Teenage Paparazzo” (HBO): “Entourage” star Adrian Grenier’s look at why a mother would allow her junior high school son to be up until 3 a.m. stalking celebrities.

  • “Wartorn: 1861-2010″ (HBO): James Gandolfini’s devastating documentary convincingly lays out the lingering effects of military combat on those called to serve.

ROAD TO THE EMMYS: REALITY & NON-FICTION
Reality as teaching tool | Are reality stars real? | ‘Stuff’ shows are a reality staple | Reality personalities that shine

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