Reality: A genre bursting beyond the seams

Road to the Emmys 2012: Reality & Nonfiction


“All-American Muslim,” TLC: Compelling study of identity and assimilation scores great reviews, low ratings in its inaugural (and only) season.

American Pickers,” History: Junk finders sift through warehouses and a hobo’s forest, proving one-of-a-kind items can be located almost anywhere.

“Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” NBC: The 90-year-old actress gets her punk’d on.

“Coming Home,” Lifetime: U.S. military personnel return home to a variety of emotional, tear-soaked surprises.

“Dance Moms,” Lifetime: Pushy stage moms vie with controlling dance teacher to see who can make more kids cry.

“Deadliest Catch,” Discovery: Series rebuilds in post-Captain Phil era, featuring plenty of drama in the consuming quest to beat storms and catch crabs.

“Giuliana & Bill,” Style: Husband-wife reality stars battle breast cancer and make babies, continuing to add viewers as they head into fifth season.

“Intervention,” A&E: Twelve seasons, 211 interventions, 161 individuals currently sober. Serious approach garnered Emmy in 2009.

“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” ABC: English chef fights L.A. Unified School District over menu, finds himself on losing end of ratings war as show ends after two seasons.

“Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” E!: In which we see Kim’s “fairytale wedding,” a two-hour event just slightly shorter than the marriage itself.

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

“Pawn Stars,” History: Channel’s highest-rated series has spun off apps, an autobiography and its own debit card. Just don’t max it out on Chumlee merch.

“The Pitch,” AMC: A real-life “Mad Men” about life in the ad trenches, with a winning campaign only a Don Draper-like pitch away.

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

Restaurant: Impossible,” Food Network: Chef travels America rehabbing restaurants with approach as fresh as recommended menu ingredients.

“Shark Tank,” ABC: Alphabet has invested in the series since 2009 and has been rewarded with a steady performer that saw a ratings uptick this year.

“Sister Wives,” TLC: Polygamists must decide which is more trying: a new baby or ongoing law enforcement investigation of their lifestyle.

“Swamp People,” History: Another great season of gator hunting is clouded by recent, unexpected death of Cajun icon Mitchell Guist.

“Teen Mom,” MTV: Third season shifts focus from parenting to boyfriend drama, though the pain and poor choices remain constant.

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


“American Experience,” PBS: With riveting portraits of Bill Clinton and Jesse Owens, history series remains relevant well into its third decade.

“American Masters,” PBS: Long-running bio show killed with comedy this year, offering illuminating takes on Woody Allen and Johnny Carson.

“America’s Most Wanted,” Lifetime: Venerable fugitive-finder says goodbye after 23 seasons, though quarterly specials should keep criminals awake at night.

“Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” Travel Channel: Ubiquitous chef, who just exited the cabler, ventures to Japan, Finland, Spain and other locales in search of the world’s best meals.

“Beyond Scared Straight,” A&E: TV spin-off continues to attract both viewers and controversy in second season of titillating juvie discipline.

Bizarre Foods America,” Travel Channel: U.S.-centric spin-off focuses on quirky American cuisine and extremes in local eats.

“Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan,” G4: Real-life “Hurt Locker” provides intimate look at lives of the members of an elite unit disarming deadly battleground explosives.

“E! News,” E! Hourlong newsmag continues with Giuliana Rancic as Ryan Seacrest has said goodbye. Never a shortage of issues to cover, as long as reality stars have relationship issues.

“Frozen Planet,” Discovery: Stunningly shot, high-def doc journeys to poles both north and south, largely eschewing climate catastrophe talk for hypnotic majesty.

“Independent Lens,” PBS: Remains a creative showcase for challenging and inventive docs and dramas from great indie filmmakers.

“Oprah’s Next Chapter,” OWN: Turning the page involves leaving the studio for in-depth looks at figures as diverse as Steven Tyler, Pastor Joel Osteen and, of course, Oprah herself.

“Prohibition,” PBS: Ken Burns’ latest looks at last century’s noble experiment with the filmmaker’s now trademark blend of archival footage, celebrity voices and incisive commentary.

“Vietnam in HD,” History: Six-parter scored with the clarity of its images but divided critics over the lucidity of its content.


“AFI Master Class: The Art of Collaboration,” TCM: Steven Spielberg and John Williams discuss their 40-year partnership in a revelatory look at just how instrumental Williams’ music is to Spielberg’s films.

“Catching Hell,” ESPN: Life hasn’t been good to Steve Bartman, who has practically vanished since trying to catch a foul ball just prior to the Chicago Cubs collapse versus the Florida Marlins.

“George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” HBO: The quiet Beatle comes through loud and clear in Martin Scorsese’s deeply felt 3 1/2 hour doc.

“Gloria: In Her Own Words,” HBO: Gloria Steinem looks back at her life and her role in the feminist movement with refreshing candor about both mistakes and triumphs.

“Hunger Hits Home,” Food Network: Urgent doc confronts the issue of childhood hunger in America.

“It Gets Better,” MTV: Poignant portrait of three teens — one gay, one lesbian, one transgender — handled with sensitivity and understanding.

“The Love We Make,”Showtime: Paul McCartney stages a New York benefit to honor members of NYPD and FDNY a month after 9/11 in a fascinating doc that benefits from a decade of distance.

“The Loving Story,” HBO: Interracial couple fights for the right to marry in 1963 in a story that has obvious parallels to current national debate over marriage.

“Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies,” A&E: Doc meticulously examines landmark album through archival footage, new interviews and a reunion concert in South Africa.

“POV: Racing Dreams,” PBS: Three pre-teen kart racers hope their obsession can lead to a shot at the big time in a film that captures the optimism and insecurities of its young subjects.

“The Real Rocky,” ESPN: Profile of heavyweight Chuck Wepner, whose workingman roots made him a sentimental choice when he squared up with Muhammad Ali for the championship belt.

“Rebirth,” Showtime: Beautiful study in healing tracks the lives of five people profoundly affected by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

“Sing Your Song,” HBO: Singer-actor Harry Belafonte’s career and activism gets its due in a stirring bio produced by his youngest daughter.

“U2 From the Sky Down,” Showtime: Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim offers a transcendent look at the Irish band’s creation of its 1991 album, “Achtung Baby.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: Reality & Nonfiction
And here’s the pitch. . . | Fundraising a huge obstacle for documakers | Hinterland heroes all the rage | ‘Frozen Planet’ proves cool for Discovery | Why we watch: Personalities that keeps auds glued | Reality: A genre bursting beyond the seams

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