Emmys: What Reality's Latest Contenders Owe 'The Osbournes'
This story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In the decade since the Osbournes took home one of the first Emmys for outstanding reality program in 2002, the shows to share in that honor have been, for lack of a better term, a motley crew. A few years' worth of dominance for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List gave way to more inspirational fare (Intervention, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Deadliest Catch), including 2012's winner, Undercover Boss. But 2013 finds the unpredictable category poised for a shot in the arm, thanks to the rising number of family-centric unscripted series dominating reality. All owe a debt to the landmark MTV reality-comedy that opened the doors to Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne's unconventional home life. There are kooky patriarchs, ambitious offspring, unkempt hairstyles and, frequently, a need for subtitles. Each of them, from E!'s Keeping Up With the Kardashians to A&E's seemingly unstoppable Duck Dynasty, follows that classic sitcom formula that Ozzy and Co. first imported from the scripted arena.
Long Island Medium
➺ Theresa Caputo could be the crossover star -- no pun intended -- that takes the Emmys' reality category from sobering subjects like Undercover Boss tackling the recession and Oliver's curbing American obesity back into comedy. Yes, the self-proclaimed psychic delivers tears on a weekly basis for TLC, channeling the spirits of people's loved ones, but she's also got a frenetic home life, a charmingly outlandish personality and a hairdo that makes a few of the Ducks' look subtle. Long Island Medium has commanded Saturday Night Live parodies, strong ratings and, on the chance that members of the TV Academy might overlook the hard-to-stomach supernatural premise, maybe even a nom.
➺ History doesn't just have one of cable's hottest unscripted properties in Pawn Stars. Its success inspired a subgenre that has begotten dozens of bargaining-based shows, each one attempting a flashier update on the classic Antiques Roadshow premise. But what the PBS perennial nominee may lack with the TV Academy is the drama of a real-life, family-run business. Rick Harrison's Las Vegas Gold & Silver Pawn Shop mirrors the maritime workplace of Deadliest Catch, albeit without the life-or-death stakes that won the Discovery drama the trophy in 2011 after it documented the death of Capt. Phil Harris. Bad press for some rivals -- Storage Wars recently saw a castmember die and was accused of faking stories -- could also thin the herd in Pawn Stars' favor.
➺ If any young reality series stands a shot at breaking into the Emmys this year, filling a vacancy left by no-longer-eligible Who Do You Think You Are? or Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, it's Duck Dynasty. A&E's opus of the entrepreneurial Robertson family -- all of whom keep happy homes stocked with hunting dogs just outside of West Monroe, La., as they make a fortune off their products for duck hunters -- has registered with viewers unlike any other new series. Its ratings rival most broadcast fare, and the severely bearded mugs of its four primary players are among the most recognizable on TV. More than any of its contemporaries, Duck Dynasty also recalls The Osbournes' sitcom appeal, with an abundance of crafty comedic edits, distinguishing it from most docu-fare.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians
➺ Many an Emmy voter might clutch their proverbial pearls at the thought of handing out a golden statuette to E!'s reigning royal family of reality, but as the series that has given way to so many spinoffs, specials and tabloid covers, it should never be counted out. Eight seasons in, Keeping Up With the Kardashians commands the level of attention most fly-on-the-wall hits grab at their zenith and fail to retain. The family's willingness to open up for the cameras, however staged, continues to click with viewers and could have the show outliving nominees long enough to sneak in one of these years.
The Shahs of Sunset
➺ Not all families are defined by blood relations. For better or worse, the cast of Bravo's outlandish hit about jet-setting Iranian-American friends living in Beverly Hills, including breakout Reza Farahan, gives off all of the drama of their Real Housewives predecessors -- but with the authenticity boost that their casting wasn't just happenstance. Shahs, with its mix of Muslim and Jewish Persians, tackles class, race and religion in a way that the network's aspirational fare has yet to handle. An Emmy seems unlikely, but it's got a leg up on Vanderpump Rules.
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
➺ To call 7-year-old Alana Thompson a dark horse in the Emmy race would be an understatement. TLC's lowbrow-and-proud-of-it Toddlers & Tiaras spinoff about the backwoods pageant star's often unintelligible family has been one of the most mocked pop culture phenomena of the past year. But it also has made Honey Boo Boo one of the most recognizable names in reality TV. And like The Osbournes before them, this rag-tag clan, headed by an aggressive matriarch and stoic dad and filled out by Nugget the chicken, has unconditional affection for one another and an unapologetic self-awareness going for it.