The Dominance Of The Reality Show

If you are a fan of “Duck Dynasty”, A&E is hoping you’ll love “Porter Ridge” as well. Swapping out the infamous Louisiana duck call family for a junkyard setting, A&E’s Discovery Channel is hoping to create another ratings juggernaut.

The Dominance Of The Reality Show

But A&E is not alone

Ever since “Duck Dynasty’s” second season took off last fall, everyone in the reality show programming business is falling over their feet to duplicate that success.

The only network staying out of the hustle is PBS, who has decided that reality shows don’t fit in with their quality of programming (though they do have their own “historical reality” series, Manor House).

Networks Follow Where Cable Leads

However, pinning programming hopes on reality television offerings may not be the payoff networks are looking for. Across the board, network television ratings have been down for years. No doubt CBS was celebrating as the number one network on television this year, but its biggest success was simply maintaining last year’s ratings. Elsewhere, ratings continued to fall. It’s important to choose the right TV service to avoid potential problems finding shows.

This trend probably won’t stop in the near future. The networks’ best bet is to scramble to emulate successful cable programming, and “Duck Dynasty” is among the three highest-rated shows on television.

While scripted programming is falling, reality television—once the network’s golden goose—has been free falling over the last several years. “American Idol”, once the dominant reality competition show in all of television, has seen its steady ratings slipping this year. Tinkering with the lineup of judges hasn’t rescued the ratings. A telling point is that “American Idol” hasn’t produced a mainstream pop star for years.

Fatigue Sets In

Reality competition fatigue has arrived. The competitive shows have run through every D-list celebrity (many arriving at their D-list fame through their own reality shows) imaginable, and viewers are getting bored. How long before the public grows tired of watching middle-aged teen stars perform in dance competitions?

Back in 2001, “Survivor” kicked off the reality competition trend, and as it began to fade, the sheer quantity of copycat competitions began to take its toll. Each talent, dancing, singing or survival competition began cannibalizing the other, and the talent pool became diluted. The downhill slide is very apparent when looking at the viewership stats:

  • “Dancing with the Stars” — 25 million just three years ago, down to 13.8 million for the season finale.
  • “American Idol” — From a series high in 2003 of 38 million down to 14 million for the season finale.
  • “The Voice” — From 12.6 million in its first season premier up to 14.6 million viewers for the most recent episode.
  • “X-Factor” — 9 million for this year’s season finale; 12 million for last year’s season finale.
  • “Survivor” — 36 million in its first season; 8.3 million for the season finale.
  • “The Amazing Race” — From a season seven high of 13 million, a steady decline to 9.3 million viewers for this year’s season finale.

In addition to the standbys that haven’t had the plug pulled, such as “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” on Bravo, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” on E!, and “Falling Skies” on TNT, networks are pinning their hopes on new reality show offerings. Syfy’s fall lineup features the reality series, “Naked Vegas” and “Fangasm,” while Oxygen is airing a new reality series that is raising religious ire: “Preachers of L.A.,” focusing on six high-profile pastors.

“It Takes a Choir” is the special reality-based, holiday season event from USA, and Discovery Channel has announced that “Naked and Afraid” is already casting for additional episodes. And yes, “Naked and Afraid” really does feature naked (but pixilated) contestants.

While it may not appear so, the reality craze is fading. Though it dominates the screen now, in the not too distant future, reality competitions will not be what people talk about anymore. But that’s not to say the networks won’t attempt to wring as much revenue out of the genre as possible before it fades out.