Road to the Emmys 2012: Reality Competition

Many have tried to imitate CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” which has won eight Emmys for reality competition, and many have discovered it’s no easy task.

Roush says of the show that, so far, has visited 82 countries: “The reason it wins so often is because of its scope and scale. People who make (reality) television understand what an impossible task it is to pull off something like ‘The Amazing Race.’ Voters look at it and go, ‘How can they pull that off every year?’ ”

Even the man who mapped out “The Amazing Race” is a bit taken aback by its endurance.

“When I presented it to CBS, I’d prepared eight seasons, thinking they would only do one,” remembers van Munster of the globetrotting reality series that premiered on Sept. 5, 2001. “Then, of course, the horror of 9/11 happened, and we thought nobody would ever travel again. I thought that would be the end of the show.”

In the summer of 2006, NBC’s “Treasure Hunters” charged teams of players with solving puzzles throughout the U.S. and Europe for a $3 million prize; last summer, ABC’s “Expedition Impossible,” exec produced by Mark Burnett of “Survivor,” found teams weathering challenges in Morocco for $50,000 and a Ford Explorer.

Currently, Bravo’s spicing up its reality slate with “Around the World in 80 Plates,” a cooking competition that follows gourmet chefs around the world as they compete in famous restaurants. Show is produced by Magical Elves, with Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz as exec producers.

On June 24, TNT will make its first foray into the reality competition space with “The Great Escape,” where teams compete to be the first to break out of confined locations like Alcatraz and the USS Hornet. The series is executive produced by “Race” co-creator and exec producer Bertram van Munster, along with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.

Even the network that already has a “Race” isn’t immune to knockoffs.

“There’s a ton of shows that come in here every day where I hear ‘It’s Amazing Race mixed with X,’ ” says CBS alternative programming executive VP Jennifer Bresnan. “But nobody does it better.”

Perhaps that’s because while others have looked to the series for inspiration, “Race” has kept forging ahead, concerned only with topping its own gold standard.

“We work so incredibly hard to keep the show fresh,” says host Phil Keoghan. “You never see the same thing twice. We never repeat places. Just wait until you see the next season.”

It wasn’t, of course. The tenuously timed first season did struggle in the ratings, averaging a modest 8.8 million viewers, but strong critical buzz helped keep “Race” running.

Now, nearly 11 years and 20 ambitious seasons later, “Race” not only ranks among TV’s longest-running reality shows but is its most decorated. Bravo’s “Top Chef” cooked up a surprise Emmy victory in 2010, but “Race” reclaimed the prize last year.

In fact, CBS’ beloved Sunday night hit now stands as one of the most golden series in any genre. Only Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” which has won nine sequential trophies in variety, music or comedy series, has had a more impressive streak.

“Certainly,” says John Leverence, senior awards VP for the TV Academy, “the run that ‘Amazing Race’ has had is of historic proportions.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: Reality Competition
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