With Declining Viewership and Staged Storylines, Are Reality TV Shows Slowly But Surely Falling Off?

August 13, 2012  |  


Infographic by Desire Thompson

Reality TV is something that people love in the comfort of their homes, ridicule on Twitter, and highly favor on the blogs and the tabloids. It’s something of an art (term used very loosely here) and while there are more than enough series to fill up your DVR for the entire year, it seems as though reality TV has hit a bump in the road both in terms of viewership and creativity.

Summer Bummers

It doesn’t come as a surprise that TV in general isn’t pulling in the ratings because of the summer. Most people are either working hard and sticking to DVR’ing their favorites or just soaking up the sun and staying away from the TV in general. This summer, ABC decided to join the singing contest bandwagon with “Duets” with successful judges like John Legend, Kelly Clarkson and Robin Thicke. The season opened with okay numbers (six million viewers) in May, but quickly fell to less than four million viewers for its season finale in July. Another promising series for reality TV fanatics was Bristol Palin’s show entitled “Bristol Plain: Life’s a Tripp” on Lifetime. The show was focused on her new life in her old town (yawn) with her son and everyone’s favorite political punch bag, Sarah Palin. Not even her mom could help her ratings; the show tanked with just 726,000 viewers for its first episode, and dropping to a low 426,000 on its second.

The summer premieres of scripted shows like ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars,” TNT’s “The Closer” and the newly renovated “Dallas” are pulling in more viewers than reality favorites like “So You Think You Can Dance,” Jersey Shore girlies’ “Snooki & JWOWW,” and  VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta” (although L&HH leads in the ratings for Monday Nights with almost two million viewers and is itself a hit for the network). But what’s popular among African-American viewers?

According to Reachingblackconsumers.com, last season, the top reality shows for black teens 12-17 included “Bad Girls Club,” adults 18-24, “T.I & Tiny: The Family Hustle,” and the 18-54 demographic closes the list with Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” With a combined total of over 1.19 million viewers, they haven’t raked in the largest numbers.

Black sitcoms/dramas are pulling in a lot more viewers. With just the encores of “Single Ladies,” “The Game” and “Let’s Stay Together” nearly doubling that average weekly, one would ask the question: Are we done with reality television? I wouldn’t put down the petitions just yet, but we may be getting there…

Haven’t We Seen This Before?

I sneaked a peak at the ninth (yes, ninth) season of “Bad Girls Club” during an episode that my cousin was watching the other day. Now, she absolutely loves everything drama filled and thinks it’s all “Amahhzing,” but even she was bored with the new season. “It’s more obvious that they [producers] are starting all the fights,” she finally realized.

There aren’t any secrets anymore when it comes to creating the story. We’re all able to spot out the villain, the victim, the b****, and the weakest link – and we all know the sob stories. Viewers are expecting something surprising when watching television, and even though I think we can all agree that a majority of it is scripted, it shouldn’t appear as such.

If it’s not enough that some shows are getting more and more predictable and fake, it doesn’t help that everyone is trying to do the same type of reality show. Need an example? How about the producers of “Big Brother” (CBS) who are suing the creator and producers of ABC’s new show “The Glass House.”  The shows are very similar: A bunch of randoms are stuck in a house with cameras all over to compete for money while dealing with the drama that they (or writers) create. And it doesn’t help that many of the former employees of “Big Brother” are now working for the “Glass House.”

“Duets” is like “The Voice,” and “The X Factor” is like “American Idol.” You can find a different rehab-meets-intervention show depending on what channel you choose, and we’re just waiting patiently for The Real Housewives of Alaska. And if you hadn’t also noticed, there’s a reality competition to get in damn near every occupation you want: modeling, cooking, acting, etc. and one for every hobby and job available (towing, working in pawn shops, fishing, being a hairstylist, a doctor, as well as a gypsy and a jailed mobster’s wife). We could be reaching reality TV overload.

The Bottom Line: Do We Care Anymore?

There are definitely a load of reality TV shows on now that we probably won’t see again (good luck “Duets”), but for every failure of one, there comes another to take its place. Another celeb ready to put their lives out there, another everyday Joe or Jane Schmo ready to become an overnight celebrity. Do we constantly complain and critique these people who put their lives out there for us to see? Yes. Do we have to watch these shows to live? No. At the end of the day, no one forces anyone to watch reality TV. While it may be on almost every blog and entertainment show, realize why it’s there–there is a general interest and a large audience for them. If we want to see more scripted television with smart plot lines and that give real hardworking actors jobs, the attention should be placed on Meagan Good and Laz Alonso’s new fall show, “Infamous,” Kerry Washington’s upcoming second season of “Scandal” or even Michael Jai White and Tasha Smith’s new comedy, “For Better or Worse.” Then we may see an even bigger change in the programming and the way our people are presented (since that’s what anti-reality TV folks have been calling for). But it all depends on the storylines we see. The more dull or ridiculous things get in a story, the less viewers you’ll see for scripted television and the more you’ll find for reality TV, talking over coffee in the morning about folks with names like Karlie Redd and Joseline. Why? Well, let’s keep it real. Sometimes it’s nice to see that in one hour, your life isn’t as much of a hot mess as someone else’s. So while it might have been a cruel summer for reality TV, once fall comes around, those barking about the options now will probably be circled around somebody’s computer talking about “Basketball Wives” and RHOA. So in the meantime, support what you want to see more of, and stop partaking in what you would like to see less of. Do your part and hope that the reality TV overload will die down (or die off completely) soon enough.

But don’t hold your breath…

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