When one of the cast members on a show about what happens when seven people go the shore and spend every day blind drunk gets pregnant, it’s not funny anymore. It’s just sad. Let’s all look away, shall we?
This UK import was among the first wave of reality mega-hits when it debuted in 2002. But it’s been going downhill ever since Paula Abdul left in 2009. Although we never thought we’d say this during her tenure, despite Abdul’s loopy inconsistency, her strange interactions with the other judges and contestants made for some accidentally hilarious live-TV moments that we’ve missed in recent seasons. Her relationship to Simon Cowell — who was also the best judge in the show’s history — was comedy gold. And it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that it’s been over three years since Idol finalists (Season 8’s Adam Lambert and Kris Allen) have actually become pop stars. Between the proliferation of more interesting singing competitions, like NBC’s The Voice, and steadily declining ratings, American Idol might want to consider going out on a high note while it still can.
America’s Next Top Model
Speaking of shows from the “America” era of reality-TV titling, America’s Next Top Model is now in the midst of its 19th “cycle” since premiering in 2003. In a sure sign that interest in the show is declining, the past few seasons have been themed; there was an “all-star” cast of also-rans from previous cycles, and one that pitted American would-be models against Britain’s Next Top Model contestants. These days, you can tune in to America’s Next Top Model: College Edition. But although it’s launched a few acting careers (Analeigh Tipton, Eva Marcille) and gave us whatever Adrienne Curry has become, it hasn’t succeeded in creating another Miss Tyra-level supermodel. Maybe, considering that the audience has also dropped off from 6.13 million viewers in its debut season to 1.52 million in its 18th, it’s time to admit defeat.
It hurts us to call out Project Runway, which was perhaps the first reality show we truly loved. Outsize characters like Jay McCarroll, Austin Scarlett, and Wendy Pepper dominated the debut season’s story lines, and judges made decisions we could actually get behind. The show remained pretty great until a lawsuit between its producers, Weinstein Company, and Bravo’s parent company, NBC Universal, resulted in Project Runway moving to Lifetime. That’s when the judging started to seem suspect, the awful spin-offs started coming (remember Models of the Runway?), and the show was stretched out to an utterly unnecessary hour and a half. Now that we’ve had an all-star season (and another is set to debut later this month) and Project Accessory, it’s clear Lifetime’s entire primetime strategy hinges on the franchise. So, although the series has become but a shadow of its once-great self, we don’t anticipate its cancellation anytime soon.
Just a few weeks ago, the show that kicked America’s love affair with reality TV into high gear premiered its 25th season. That’s right, although it’s only been on for 12 years, Survivor has had more seasons than The Simpsons. And ever since Survivor: All-Stars (which was only Season 8), producers have been floating such notoriously strange — and sometimes offensive — conceits as dividing the competing “tribes” by race and labeling returning contestants “heroes” or “villains.” The current season, Survivor: Philippines, pairs new castaways with three returning cast members who had to leave the show due to illness or injury. Clearly, the well of fresh ideas will never run dry.
The Real World
Survivor may have heralded the 21st-century reality-TV takeover, but MTV’s The Real World predated it by almost a decade, premiering in the spring of 1992. Now looking forward to a 28th season in Portland, Oregon (take that, Portlandia!), this series’ decline may be the most tragic on the list. Although it always spotlighted personalities that seemed like caricatures, early seasons of The Real World tackled issues like race, sexual orientation, and the AIDS crisis. But in its second decade, it became just like every other reality show about young people (including Jersey Shore), a chronicle of what happens when people stop being polite and start getting drunk. Very, very, constantly, violently drunk.
Dancing with the Stars
In its current season, the 15th since the show debuted in 2005, the Dancing with the Stars All-Stars cast includes a member of The Cheetah Girls who is not Raven-Symoné, a member of 98 Degrees who is not (even) Nick Lachey, and Bristol Palin. Yes, Bristol Palin, famous for being pregnant, is back for her second season on the program. When you call your show Dancing with the Stars and that’s who you cast, you’re just begging for criticism.
Originally a vaguely interesting reality competition in which young business people competed to run one of Donald Trump’s companies, The Apprentice got old fast. The tasks, often featuring heavy product placement, got repetitive. Trump’s “You’re fired” tagline and its attendant cobra-like hand gesture were played out within the first month. The tycoon’s children eventually replaced his real business associates at boardroom table. And then, for the seventh of its 12 seasons, The Apprentice became The Celebrity Apprentice. So, on top of everything else, the show was faced with the same trouble as Dancing with the Stars: the former Miss Universes and personalities from other reality shows just aren’t that compelling. Also? Ever since Trump became a birther and stuck his hairpiece into national politics, his self-aggrandizing antics haven’t seemed so amusing.
Keeping Up with the Kardashians
OK, yes, it was an enjoyably odd culture clash when Kim Kardashian started dating Kanye West and he showed up in the series’ most recent season. But now that we’re over that novelty, after five years and seven seasons, we reckon this show has accomplished all it set out to do. It’s launched no fewer than four spin-offs with very similar names (Kourtney and Khloé Take Miami, Kourtney and Kim Take New York, Khloé & Lamar and Kourtney and Kim Take Miami), brought Kim and her family out of the sex-tape underground and into the tabloid mainstream, and given everyone from soccer moms to music bloggers an opinion on the daughters’ love lives. The Kardashians are now so famous they don’t even need a reality show — or five — so maybe it’s time step aside and make room for the next inevitable generation of heiresses.
In its sixth season, which premiered September 16th, Dr. Drew ran out of famous people and VH1 chopped “Celebrity” off the title. But whether it’s actors and Playboy models or regular, everyday addicts we’re gawking at, this show is exploitative to the core. Rehab shouldn’t just be canceled — it should never have aired in the first place.