From showtime’s “Twin Peaks” to the upcoming “Dynasty” on the CW, reboots and revivals are flooding the airwaves, so it is no surprise that those behind the reality television genre want to capitalize on the nostalgia craze, too. An overwhelming wave of reality revival development is now thriving across broadcast, cable, and streaming networks.
“America’s Next Top Model” spent 22 cycles on broadcast television — premiering on UPN before that network merged with the WB to become the CW, where “Top Model” continued for almost a decade — before it was cancelled, only to be subsequently resurrected just months later on Viacom staple VH1.
“As one of the most iconic pop culture and fashion formats of all time, we felt that ‘America’s Next Top Model’ fit perfectly into VH1’s brand values,” says Nina Diaz, MTV and VH1’s head of unscripted.
The show’s syndicated run on the network from 2004-2007 was a proven performer as well, which aided the decision. And that decision paid off when VH1’s debut cycle of “America’s Next Top Model” had its highest rated premiere in five years, a success Diaz hopes to continue with sister network MTV’s upcoming revival of “My Super Sweet 16.”
In order to make noise in such a busy television landscape, Diaz says a show must have “an amazing cast, a unique POV, and strong storytelling.” With “America’s Next Top Model,” VH1 was able to breathe new life into an old format by bringing on “the most diverse cast and a panel of judges who are fashion disrupters,” she says. “Looking at fashion through a fresh lens and playing with the format was so important to us.”
With so many titles vying for attention in an increasingly crowded space, programmers are betting that the familiar may be what grabs viewers’ limited attention spans.
“There’s a comfort in familiarity. You go into a show that you know and you can ride that journey because you know what’s coming,” says Lauren Gellert, WE tv’s exec VP of original programming & development. “There are key tentpole moments throughout that fans remember, love, and will enjoy experiencing again.”
ABC has seen success with its 2015 revival of “Celebrity Family Feud,” which had only lived for one short season previously (on NBC in 2008) but whose parent show, “Family Feud,” was performing well in syndication with new host Steve Harvey. Rob Mills, ABC’s senior VP of alternative series, specials & late-night programming, says that at the time the plan was not to start a chain of revivals but to take on formats that “really work” and give them new twists and therefore new lives.
“The great shows, especially in reality, are all one-line concepts. They’re evergreen,” he says. “It certainly helps that you have an audience of a generation that grew up watching these shows and hopefully they want to share it with their family, but you also have to make sure there’s something new and special in the new incarnation that’s going to make it so even if it was a brand new format, people would want to tune in regardless. Audiences are savvy and have seen everything, so I think now it is about entertaining and giving the absolute best package.”
ABC followed “Celebrity Family Feud” with a 2016 revival of “Match Game,” a series that first premiered on rival network NBC in 1962 and underwent a number of format changes and channel changes in the 50-plus years before the Alphabet network scooped it up.
“‘Match Game’ is really less game and more comedy panel show. That type of stuff was working in late night; things were going viral,” Mills says of its timely appeal. “Match Game” nabbed an Emmy nomination this year for Alec Baldwin in the category of reality or reality competition host.
|“There is a comfort in familiarity. You go into a show that you know and you can ride the journey because you know what’s coming.”|
In fact, ABC seems to be leading the pack of these reality revivals right now. 2016 also saw “100,000 Pyramid” return, though this is not the first time ABC has revived this show: after CBS cancelled “10,000 Pyramid” in 1974, ABC stepped in the same year. And just this summer ABC continued the trend with such shows as “The Gong Show” and “Battle of the Network Stars.”
“When you’re looking to do something new, you need to find an element you can sell easily, and the nostalgia helps,” Mills says.
But they are not stopping there: Next year will bring ABC’s revival of “American Idol,” the music competition sensation that swept Fox for 15 seasons. After its cancellation in 2016, the production company behind the show, FremantleMedia North America, immediately wanted to make a deal for a new home, and ABC jumped at the chance.
“‘Idol’ was as big as any show’s ever been at its height. When it fell down to earth, a lot of it was really just because of how the landscape changed; all Nielsen numbers fell,” Mills says. “But there has never not been a massively engaged audience with that show, so we felt like there was never a bad time for that show to be on the air.”
The revival trend is not isolated to game shows and competition series, either. Unscripted true crime procedural “Cold Justice” is back on cable after an almost two-year hiatus, thanks to Oxygen Media. Formerly on TNT, the Dick Wolf-produced show looks to build upon its record of 30 arrests and 16 convictions through investigations into cold cases across the country.
“When we went off the air I had 10 producers that I don’t even know call to say, ‘Hey, do you have ideas? What about this old case?’ It was crazy,” says former prosecutor and “Cold Justice” executive producer Kelly Siegler of the demand to keep her brand of reality show going. “I think if you have a good idea, or a good concept, or you’re doing miracles like we are, I think there’s a place for you on TV today.”
For Siegler, the interest in keeping the show going came from the social-media audience as well. “Cops, victims, all kinds of people reached out to ask, ‘What’s going on? When are you coming back?’” she says. “Obviously Oxygen realized what was going on and the value in a show with that kind of audience.”
Though Siegler admits “Cold Justice” never drew huge ratings for the Turner cabler, she thinks there is vast potential of her “smart audience” to aid in the success of Oxygen’s larger 24-hour crime channel rebrand.
“I really think that there are people out there that are geeky or nerds, and I use those words as points of pride, who want to know the way it really works behind the scenes,” Siegler says. “They’re smart TV viewers who want to figure out how we do this. And I think we’ve seen there are enough of those people out there that if we keep it real, we’ll always have an audience.”
Other non-competition or reality lifestyle series that are making a comeback include “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” (originally on Bravo but now labeled as “coming soon,” according to Netflix) and WE tv’s “Bridezillas.”
“Bridezillas,” which WE tv’s Gellert says was brand-defining for the network, was last seen on television in 2013. In the years since it has been off-air, not only did the network itself grow but so did audience interest in weddings, thanks to DIY wedding boards on Pinterest and personalized wedding hashtags on Twitter.
“It feels like weddings in general are bigger than ever because of social media, so it was a good time for us to capitalize on it as well,” Gellert says. “We are a broader network and a bigger network than we were then, and we have an opportunity to appeal to that greater and more diverse audience.”
Rather than try to revamp the format of the show, Gellert believes in sticking with what is timeless to both welcome back fans from the original “Bridezillas” run as well as attract new viewers.
“The most important thing is casting and the story. Those are the things that make any show great,” says Gellert. “You see something, and you tell somebody, ‘You have to see this!’”