Reality Reasserts Itself in Summer TV With Record 11 New Shows

Reality TV Shows Dominating Summer - Photo-Illustration - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Trae Patton/NBC (Dance), Michael Becker/FOX (Shazam), ABC/Greg Gayne (Gong)

The volume of scripted TV may be at an all-time high, but you'd never know it from the Big Four's summer schedules, with 11 new reality shows set to debut this summer — up from four last year. That reverses a trend launched by CBS' scripted summer hit Under the Dome in 2013.

One reason is money: Scripted programming is less and less financially appealing in the off-months. Hence it accounts for only about 20 percent of Big Four originals airing this summer.

"When you have a hit reality show, you can scale [it]," says NBC Entertainment president of program planning, strategy and research Jeff Bader. "World of Dance can be like Ninja Warrior and America's Got Talent and expand to many more hours. That's not easy with scripted."

World, already renewed, is a hit. The Jennifer Lopez vehicle ranks as TV's top summer freshman since Dome — thanks in part to airing after Talent, which is averaging a big 3.6 rating among adults 18-to-49 and 15.7 million viewers per episode with live-plus-7 Nielsen returns. "The plan was always to give Talent a time period that would enable it to grow," says Simon Cowell.

Atypically aggressive plays have come from ABC and Fox, emboldened by top brass' interest in duplicating NBC's strides. "People who watch unscripted television tend to watch a lot of it, [and] summer gives us the opportunity to block them together," says Rob Wade, Fox's newly minted president of alternative entertainment and specials.

Fox paired game shows Beat Shazam and Love Connection to promising returns, though the Gordon Ramsay talker The F Word has fared less favorably after MasterChef. Nothing's yet a smash.

That's a problem shared by ABC, where singing competition Boy Band is fizzling and the rebooted Battle of the Network Stars and The Gong Show are doing only modestly better. The network's entertainment president, Channing Dungey, credits her alternative lineup with speaking to "a very young demographic," but repeatability might be its greatest strength.

There may yet be another smash like Dance, but the biggest wild card is a returning show. The scandal at ABC's Bachelor in Paradise, briefly sidelined by an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct, could propel train wreck TV to new heights when Paradise returns Aug. 14.

This story first appeared in the July 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.