REALITY COMPETITION SERIES
“The Amazing Race” (CBS)
The close-to-flawless production and exhilarating locations make this seven-time Emmy a tough competitor. Again. Can it repeat? At some point, a new winner will emerge, but when is the million-dollar question.
“America’s Got Talent” (NBC)
Auds relish amateur triumph, and despite being criticized for not having their own Susan Boyle, the show has discovered its own set of raw talent, including a former insurance salesman turned opera singer and an 11-year-old singer and guitarist.
“American Idol” (Fox)
With Simon Cowell now having offered his last cutting barb, voters will have to decide if this is the year the ratings giant — though those numbers are fading — deserves accolades for top reality program, an achievement that has thus far eluded it.
“The Biggest Loser” (NBC)
Strong ratings almost seem secondary to the uplifting stories of hefty contestants who, while shedding pounds, find a reason to live again. Just competing can, literally, make a difference between life and death.
“Celebrity Apprentice” (NBC)
Just because the Donald says that “The Amazing Race” doesn’t deserve another Emmy doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but the Gotham power broker remains as compelling a reality force as anyone on the TV landscape.
“Dancing With the Stars” (ABC)
With an eclectic mix of hoofers — Pamela Anderson, Buzz Aldrin and NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco among them — ABC’s top reality skein has managed to creep into “American Idol” ratings territory, and earn nearly as much buzz.
“Minute to Win It” (NBC)
Making feathers stay aloft by blowing them into the air or stacking golf balls may seem silly, but this family-friendly gameshow looks like it might be around for a while if early solid ratings are an indication.
“Project Runway” (Lifetime)
Despite changing networks and cities, viewers got what they had been missing for more than a year from the fashionista-focused show, as self-assured and surprisingly civil contestants created wearable clothes out of hardware materials and burlap potato sacks.
“The Sing Off” (NBC)
No band doesn’t mean no chance for the Peacock’s a capella singing competition. Music shows tend to resonate with viewers, but whether this one has enough to speak to voters as well remains to be seen.
Even after 20 seasons, two-time Emmy winning host Jeff Probst and those dedicated, compelling and ultracompetitive contestants keep this reality show behemoth as entertaining as the day it first aired a decade ago.
“Top Chef” (Bravo)
Watching top-of-their-game chefs — who sometimes panic when they have to cook for the crix — prepare mouthwatering plates is entertaining and inspiring. A caveat: Never watch when you’re hungry.
Similar to “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” this one relishes in the harmless falls of contestants; it’s a large-scale stunt competition that doesn’t disappoint.
A brutal depiction of the battle for sobriety, series ultimately demonstrates the importance of substance abuse treatment.
“American Pickers” (History)
Prospering off long-forgotten products from the Midwest is not only absorbing, but alluring.
“Antiques Roadshow” (PBS)
This top-rated PBS primetime program attracts close to 10 million weekly viewers and has attracted Emmy voters in years past.
“The Bachelor/The Bachelorette” (ABC)
After a bit of a lull, “Bachelor” Jason Mesnick and “Bachelorette” Jillian Harris made falling in love on a dating show fun again.
“Bad Girls Club” (Oxygen)
Feisty femmes with trust, anger and control issues living under the same roof mean plenty of conflict, which translates into a ratings hit for the 18-34 women-skewing cabler.
“Be Good Johnny Weir” (Sundance)
Although he didn’t take home the gold last winter, watching Olympian Weir prepare for the Games in the midst of a coaching drama and recurring skater rivalry was almost as riveting as what took place from Vancouver.
“Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew” (VH1)
Witnessing the inner workings of a rehab facility that hosts the likes of Heidi Fleiss, Tom Sizemore and Dennis Rodman is, if not glamorous, mesmerizing.
“Dirty Jobs” (Discovery)
If learning what goes into making civilized life possible — via host Mike Rowe and every grungy job he takes on — doesn’t make viewers appreciative, not much else will.
“Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan” (NatGeo)
Millan reminds viewers that like humans, no two dogs are alike, but all canines can be rehabilitated, and all people can be trained.
“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (ABC)
Ty Pennington and team not only rapidly reconstruct and design houses, they change the lives of the families living in them for the better. Still one of the strongest feel-good shows around.
“Flipping Out” (Bravo)
Watching obsessive-compulsive real estate investor Jeff Lewis deal with a depressed economy is almost more entertaining than when he’s thriving.
Despite its dark and often quite sad subject matter, the net has shed light on this disturbing mental disorder that affects more than 3 million people.
“I Survived” (Bio)
Truly unforgettable survival stories of murder attempts, natural disasters and other acts that defy description.
Last year’s Emmy winner in this category, the skein gives addicts on the verge of death a chance at redemption through rehab.
“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (ABC)
Watching the British food guru get American kids off their butts and into the kitchen to eat more fruit and vegetables instead of fast food is not only astounding, but educational.
“Jersey Shore” (MTV)
No show reached the cultural zeitgeist quite like this newcomer that saw the exploits of Snooki and the Situation find their way into conversations that went beyond the cabler’s core aud.
“Jon and Kate Plus 8” (TLC)
Eight children plus two parents going through a divorce equals plenty of paparazzi and magazine covers.
“Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” (Bravo)
Griffin’s sharp and revealing narratives give viewers a unique backstage look into the inner workings of Hollywood.
“Keeping Up With the Kardashians” (E!)
Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and mom-manager Kris may drive each other crazy, but ultimately nothing can come between their strong family bond.
“Man vs. Wild” (Discovery)
Bear Grylls could sit still and be entertaining, yet he and survives in landscapes mere mortals would never want to set foot in.
“Pawn Stars” (History)
Take the only family-owned pawnshop in Las Vegas and add customers’ offbeat items, as well as family and staff conflict, and History has its most-watched series in the 25-54 demo.
“Penn and Teller: Bullshit!” (Showtime)
The iconic duo offers a comic edge to investigative reports where common sense often trumps myth in Showtime’s longest-running series.
“Police Women of Broward County” (TLC)
Spotlighting women and mothers working in what is traditionally considered a dangerous male profession is a new take on a popular reality subject.
“The Real Housewives of New Jersey” (Bravo)
All previous “Real Housewives” were just a tune-up to the big-haired, loud-mouthed, irresistible Jersey housewives, who like to keep it in the family.
“Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood” (Oxygen)
Spelling, once best known for “Beverly Hills 90210,” now has fans who weren’t even alive when the show first went on the air in 1990.
“Undercover Boss” (CBS)
Bowing after this year’s Super Bowl, this well-executed timely skein was the top-rated new reality show of the season and has as much ratings buzz as any broadcast show out there.
“Who Do You Think They Are” (NBC)
From exec producer Lisa Kudrow, celebrities unearthing details about ancestors is a relatable endeavor that sparks curiosity about one’s own family trees.
“16 and Pregnant” (MTV)
It’s easy to be dumbfounded and irritated by its subjects’ behavior, but the show occasionally manages to break your heart on multiple levels.
“30 For 30” (ESPN)
Doc series has engaged filmmakers such as Peter Berg, Barry Levinson and Ice Cube to offer personal essays on the sports landscape.
“America: The Story of Us” (History)
Lively recreations make U.S. history appealing to young viewers and occasionally illuminating to their elders, too.
“The American Experience” (PBS)
Knowledgeable, captivating takes on U.S. history, including critically lauded new episodes on the environmental movement and Mormons.
“American Masters” (PBS)
Nuanced biopic series scores this year with absorbing looks at Sam Cooke, Merle Haggard, I.M. Pei and Louisa May Alcott.
“Behind the Music” (VH1)
Though not as prolific as in its heyday, still manages to keep the beat going with fresh interviews of top performers.
Granddaddy of the format still chugging along on its namesake network.
“Brick City” (Sundance)
Local government is captured at its most inspirational and absurd levels in this intimate look at a Newark mayor trying to bring about urban renewal.
“Deadliest Catch” (Discovery)
Recent sixth-season premiere grabbed the show’s highest ratings ever; series still finds high drama on the high seas.
“The First 48” (A&E)
Captures the reality of homicide police work with a rigor that “CSI” can’t match.
Oprah-narrated series delivers a gorgeous, intimate look at nature that engages both the mind and the eye.
“Monty Python: Almost the Truth” (IFC)
Fortieth anniversary doc weaves rare footage and new interviews to beautifully illustrate the genius of the comic troupe.
“No Reservations” (Travel Channel)
Anthony Bourdain continues to find unexplored corners of the world to offer his opinions on weird food and inspired living.
“Storm Chasers” (Discovery)
Tornadoes are reluctant to give up their secrets — good news for fans of this turbulent science series.
“Spectacle: Elvis Costello With …” (Sundance)
No gimmicks, just a smart appreciation of song craft hosted by an authority on the subject.
“Teen Mom” (MTV)
Cautionary “16 and Pregnant” spinoff shows adolescent parenthood with a depth and detail that inspires conversation among viewers.
“True Hollywood Story” (E!)
Continues to chronicle the lives of the dearly departed and newly scandalized into bite-sized, glossy hours.
“Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful” (Showtime)
All-access tour doc shows there’s more to the New Jersey band than lead singer’s great hair.
“By the People” (HBO)
Following President Obama a year before he declared his candidacy, filmmakers captures the high emotions of a long political campaign.
“Dad’s in Heaven With Nixon” (Showtime)
Bittersweet, impressive exploration of the ways the filmmaker’s family dealt with — and avoided dealing with — autism in its ranks.
“The Real Face of Jesus?” (History)
Computer artists reconstruct the Shroud of Turin with results that, while debatable, are undeniably fascinating.
“Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags” (HBO)
Rich history of New York’s garment industry offers joyous recollections and grim observations about its current state.
“Teddy: In His Own Words” (HBO)
Ted Kennedy tribute expertly uses the late senator’s interviews to remind viewers of a rich, complicated political life.
“Terror in Mumbai” (HBO)
Incredible raw footage, expertly assembled, offers real insight into the 2008 terrorist attack.