Old reality TV favourites return 0
Television reality show "Dancing with the Stars" winners J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff pose with the mirror ball trophy in Los Angeles on Nov. 22, 2011. (REUTERS)
For a genre in which literally anything can be a show, reality TV is in a bit of a rut.
That's not to say it doesn't still do very well. But creatively speaking - particularly in the dominant reality-competition category - the old war horses have stuck around forever, and most of the new offerings are just slight genetic mutations of those old war horses.
For the singing and dancing and acting competition shows, the trick now is to change up your judging panel each year. It's getting just like pro sports, in that the real intrigue occurs in the off-season, when all the big news is about free-agent signings.
We may be reaching a point where members of the viewing public enjoy talking about these shows, and imagining and debating their own dream judging panels, more than actually watching them. That's a brain-teaser for TV, isn't it?
Anyway, here's a look at some of the stuff that's coming up this fall, reality being relative.
THE X FACTOR (returning, Fox/CTV)
Reality talent competition now has nothing to do with the competition any more. Contestants essentially are disposable. It's all about the judges. Granted, we've been headed that way for a while. But no show has proven it more than the American version of The X Factor, which is hoping a youth infusion on the judging panel will transform the second season after a somewhat blase rookie year. Britney Spears and Demi Lovato have joined holdovers Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid. In just about every interview over the past six months, Cowell has said something along the lines of, "Britney and Demi are the mean ones, you'll see." Young females being mean? Preposterous.
OVER THE RAINBOW (new, CBC)
This is a competition to pick a young actress to play Dorothy in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz. CBC did this a few years back with a TV show linked to a stage production of The Sound of Music called How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? I didn't think that one would work - too obscure, too Toronto-centric for the rest of the country - but it turned out kind of okay. And The Wizard of Oz has a wider fan base than The Sound of Music (just my opinion, not scientific, please keep your emails cordial if you disagree).
SURVIVOR (returning, CBS/Global)
The show that annually lives up to its name. This has proven to be a bullet-proof format. And unlike the singing and dancing and acting competitions, the structure of Survivor keeps the focus firmly on the participants.
THE AMAZING RACE (returning, CBS/CTV)
You know, pretty much everything I just said about Survivor applies to The Amazing Race, too. You might as well call it The Resilient Race.
THE VOICE (returning, NBC/CTV Two)
The Voice of a new reality-TV generation? Not so fast. Having become a pop-culture phenomenon for a brief spell with its spinning chairs and Christina Aguilera's cleavage, ratings for The Voice dipped toward the end of its second season. The blunt truth for high-profile reality-competition these days is that if you go into any season with the same judging panel you had the season before, you're going to look stale.
THE BACHELOR CANADA (new, Citytv)
Viewers love me, viewers love me not. Former CFL player Brad Smith is "wookin' pa nub" (remember that old Saturday Night Live sketch, with Eddie Murphy playing Buckwheat?) as The Bachelor franchise heads north of the border. Hey, my informal straw poll consistently confirms that tons of people who you'd never expect sneak home and secretly watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. So the format is a winner. The question is whether cold Canada can bring the heat.
DANCING WITH THE STARS (returning, ABC/CTV)
Welcome back, Pamela Anderson. Welcome back, Bristol Palin. Welcome back, Kotter. Okay, that last one isn't right. But with the list of suitable celebrities willing and able to perform on this show apparently having dwindled in recent seasons, it's perfect timing for an all-star edition.
DRAGONS' DEN (returning, CBC)
Shave and a haircut, two bits. The author of The Wealthy Barber, David Chilton, joins the cast. Hey, wasn't his book about being smart with your money, rather than taking chances on crazy crap?