Emmys: Will a New Show Finally Break Into the Stale Reality Competition Category?

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The category has for years been dominated by veteran shows, but Jennifer Lopez's 'World of Dance' and the 'American Idol' reboot may finally shake up the race.

The Emmy for reality competition program was added in 2003, a couple of years after the format exploded across the small screen. Rather than capturing the latest and best of the genre, the category has earned its greatest significance as the prize that Donald Trump is still salty about losing twice to The Amazing Race.

Certain Emmy categories have been perpetually susceptible to whatever’s shiniest and newest. There’s some irony, then, in the fact that a category most observers would expect to recognize Hollywood’s most transitory fads has instead been among the awards’ most entrenched. 

In the category’s 15 years, The Amazing Race has been nominated every year and won 10 times. Project Runway has 13 nominations. Dancing With the Stars and Top Chef have 11 each and the original American Idol got nine. That means in your average year, there have been only one or two slots open for the rest of the vast field. 

It’s a tough category for new blood to break into, much less win, but it certainly felt like 2017 was an opportunity for Emmy voters to reflect a sea change, albeit a few years late. RuPaul’s Drag Race helped reshape a cultural conversation in a way few shows about ballad-belting Midwestern chanteuses or fox-trotting former NFL stars can claim. Drag Race — nominated last year for the first time in its ninth season — felt like the sort of no-brainer winner the category required to thrive. Instead, The Voice won. For the fourth time in five years. 

The “new” show this year with the best chance of breaking in isn’t a new show at all. It’s American Idol, making the leap from Fox to ABC. Frequent nominee Ryan Seacrest offers continuity, but ABC would be wise to accentuate the changes, building a campaign around new judge Katy Perry’s rapport with contestants and the show’s innovative decision to go live coast to coast for much of the spring.

American Idol’s likeliest newbie rival is exIdol judge Jennifer Lopez’s World of Dance, which had a big launch on NBC and was successful enough that it already has been renewed through its third season. Of course, if Idol bona fides and keeping NBC’s lights on during the long gap between spring and fall were viable Emmy criteria, America’s Got Talent would be a perennial contender. Instead, Simon Cowell’s hit has scored nary a nomination.

This story first appeared in the May 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.