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This story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The faint whoosh heard around Los Angeles shortly after 8 a.m. on March 9 wasn't any Santa Ana wind. It was a collective sigh of relief from the reality TV community.
Little Big Shots, NBC's adorable alloy of Kids Say the Darndest Things and America's Got Talent, had premiered the previous night, and Nielsen overnight ratings dubbed it the biggest alternative launch in the last half-decade. Not since 2011, the year that brought The Voice and The X Factor, had a reality show gotten off to such an auspicious start. And the good news keeps coming for the Steve Harvey-hosted series, which grew with DVR stats and has maintained the bulk of its initial live draw (a 2.9 rating among adults 18-to-49 and 12.7 million viewers) with its move to Sundays.
Turns out reality is alive and well. Despite periodic headlines that read more like epitaphs, TV's most underestimated genre still is capable of spawning sleeper hits (HGTV's rising Fixer Upper), pop culture phenomena (Spike's viral Lip Sync Battle) and even the occasional bona fide success. These victories are enough to justify its overwhelming dominance on the dial, which makes the notion of peak scripted TV look downright modest in comparison. As National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courtney Monroe pointed out to TV critics in January, complete with a Landgrafian PowerPoint, a staggering 750 original reality series aired on U.S. cable alone in 2015, roughly 350 of them brand-new.
For this year's list of the genre's most powerful sellers and producers, THR has whittled the ranks down to 10 decidedly unique players — all of whom sound off in these pages on what's working, what isn't and what's next. Some even share thoughts on their recent skewering in Lifetime satire UnREAL. (Spoiler alert: They love it!)
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