Tensions Ignite Between Competing Reality TV Award Shows

The Voice - Kelly Clarkson and John Legend -Graphic- H 2020
Trae Patton/NBC

On June 29, the Critics' Choice Association announced the winners of its second annual Real TV Awards, a long list that saw trophies doled out to Survivor host Jeff Probst, Netflix’s Queer Eye and Cheer, and NBC’s The Voice

The latter show also picked up top honors just days earlier at another reality TV awards event, aptly dubbed the Reality Television Awards.

The co-founders of that 8-year-old event are crying foul, saying they’ve been around longer and have yet to receive respect or acknowledgement from the CCA for planting the flag, despite attempts at contacting the group and its representatives. “We created this show to honor the people in the industry in front of and behind the camera. People in Hollywood often steal ideas, and this is a clear example of that,” says reality TV veteran Andrew Ward (Miz & Mrs. on USA), co-founder of RTA along with casting director Kristen Moss (The Great Christmas Light Fight). “It’s so blatant and just a slap in our face.”

Though the competing shows have created some confusion with at least one person — Dr. Sandra Lee, aka Dr. Pimple Popper, a winner in the Reality Television Awards' guilty pleasure category, who mixed up the names in her acceptance speech — there are differences in the structure of the voting groups. The Real TV Awards are voted on by CCA members, who are professional critics and press, while the Reality Television Award nominees are decided on by 3,000 industry peers, with winners chosen via public vote.

“If [the CCA] wanted to have a show about reality television, it would’ve been great for them to come to us and say, ‘Let’s work together,’ instead of sneaking behind our backs to create their own award show," says Moss. "It proves they don't actually care about the industry, only the money that can be made from an awards show.” 

Also objectionable, Ward and Moss say, is how they’ve been largely ignored by media while the Real TV Awards regularly is featured by industry publications. “It feels that we are being squashed and walked over on our backs by the new guy,” Ward says of his show, which this year featured a long list of stars including Emmy winner Leah Remini, Kandi Burruss, James Charles, Pauly D, Wendi McClendon-Covey and James Kennedy. The Real TV Awards featured virtual emcee Phil Rosenthal, Jeff Goldblum, Padma Lakshmi and Tan France, among others. Both shows were virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, CCA president Joey Berlin says his organization has been honoring reality TV as part of its larger awards event since 2011 and only created the Real TV Awards when it became too much of a time crunch after the separate movie and TV events merged into one, leaving less time to honor reality TV in the main program. “Unscripted is too important to be an also-ran,” he explains, calling it an organic choice that had nothing to do with any other events or groups. “What we do as an organization stems from what our Critics' Choice Association members do on a daily basis: help the industry focus on what they should see, help audiences find the good stuff and support producers along the way. And we share that in the form of these awards events.” 

A version of this story first appeared in the July 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.