Naked Everything: Cable Nets Strip Down for Reality's Latest Trend

9:00 AM PST 04/03/2014 by Lesley Goldberg
Discovery Channel

Clothing is not encouraged as the success of "Naked and Afraid" sparks a new wave of nude programming.

This story first appeared in the April 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

As broadcast networks search desperately for the next big reality format, cable network execs already might have found it -- right underneath their clothes. Discovery Channel has a bona fide hit in Naked and Afraid, a survival series in which a man and woman are stranded somewhere horrible without their clothes that ranked as the highest-rated premiere in total viewers in the network's history. The cabler also found success with the four-part docuseries Naked Castaway, with sibling network TLC joining in with Buying Naked, a real estate entry exploring communities for nudists, while Syfy has body-painting effort Naked Vegas. Next out of the gate will be VH1, which will put a new spin on romance with Naked Dating.

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So what's the appeal? Authenticity, apparently. "It was a natural evolution of making the most true and honest survival experience we can," says Discovery executive vp development and production Denise Contis. "When you strip away what they may be wearing, there's nothing to hide behind." And that honesty is appealing to viewers: Naked and Afraid's March 16 season-two premiere was the No. 2 nonfiction cable show among men 18-to-49 and 25-to-54, behind only AMC's Talking Dead. It also ranked as the No. 3 cable show among men 25-to-54 and No. 4 among viewers 18-to-49 and 25-to-54 (all excluding sports). And that's not counting the live aftershow Naked After Dark, which pulled 1.4 million total viewers.

The series, which hails from Renegade 83's David Garfinkle and Jay Renfroe, was inspired -- no joke -- by Adam and Eve, who producers say were the first survivalists. They see the success of the show as a commentary on how comfortable people are getting with their bodies. The prurient appeal quickly fades away as contestants focus more on their survival without food, water or shelter. "The nudity is awkward at the top, but they forget about it very quickly because they have agendas much more important," says Renfroe. "And the viewing experience is the same: Nudity gets them to the sofa, but it has nothing to do with the show."

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