I’m on vacation this week so I’m posting items in advance so you guys have a place to continue the conversation. Obviously, MJ is always the best place to go for breaking news.
The biggest changes in “American Idol” history are going to be implemented in a month’s time.
Why? Simon Cowell’s gone. Last season was a dud. Ratings are down. The winner? Who was that again? So we have new judges, no more semifinals, changes in the Hollywood rounds, and younger kids allowed to compete, just to name a few.
But for reality TV, “Idol” is hardly alone in its longevity. It has many peers that show no signs of going away. Here are veterans of note:
- MTV’s “Real World,” (1992-present) after 18 years, is producing its 25th incarnation. It’s considered the original reality show that we know today with confessionals and manufactured drama. Some of the current participants were in diapers when the show started. The show featuring disparate young folks thrown into a house has long lost its buzz to the likes of “Jersey Shore” but MTV still thinks it draws enough viewers (usually 1.5 to 2 million) to keep around. Yet for some reason, Atlanta has NEVER been picked as a site for the show.
- A decade has passed, making CBS’s “Survivor” (2000-present) two years older than “Idol.” It’s about to finish a whopping 21 cycles on various remote locations batting away mosquitoes and subsisting on rice for days on end. Jeff Probst has been doing the show or now a collective 840 days and has snuffed out more than 300 people’s flames (because fire, as we know, means life). It remains a solid hit for CBS, averaging 12 to 13 million viewers a week, a relatively stable level in recent years. Even a move to Wednesday this year has not hurt the show (although too many boring contestants and lack of strategic twists has made this season less than inspiring.)
- Emmy-winning “The Amazing Race” (2001-present) will be doing a second “all star” edition or its 18th cycle in February. A logistical marvel, this nine-year-old show has sent more than 400 people millions of miles to more than to more than 100 countries. It’s a travelogue and a race at the same time, with pairings ranging that have included a little person, a deaf person, a diabetic and Harlem Globetrotters. The only time it stumbled is when it tried a “families” edition and stuck to domestic sites.
- The CW’s oldest show is “America’s Next Top Model” (2003-present) after 15 seasons. This is where female estrogen dominated the equation, with a gay-friendly vibe and the flourishes of mother hen Tyra Banks. There were models with lupus, who had Asperger syndrome, who were partially blind. There were twins and a model who was a “transgender.” The show made normal-looking women feel fat (though there was always a token “plus sized” gal every cycle and one even won.). Seemingly every cycle a model gets her long hair cut and cries. Did it generate any genuine supermodels? I have no idea.
- ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (2003-present) was a true phenomenon by being the most “feel good” show out there, giving deserving families great homes built in a matter of days. Former Grant Park’s Ty Pennington plays the inspiring host, bullhorn and all. Unfortunately, the series in its eighth season has been seriously losing steam in the ratings, averaging about 8 million viewers a week now, about half its peak numbers. I’m not sure ABC is going to give it another season. To add to the weekly pathos, the show has been incorporating celebrities.
– “The Biggest Loser,” (2004-present). This show has always conveyed itself as an inspiration for fat people. Yet it has also been criticized for creating unrealistic expectations for people who don’t have time to exercise six hours a day and have a nutritionist on site. And some of those who lost hundreds of pounds regained them back later. I’ve never been much of a fan but it has been a consistent performer for NBC, though ratings are way down this fall.
- Lifetime’s “Project Runway” (2004-present) has lasted eight incarnations on two networks. People who claim to hate reality shows have frequently carved out an exception for this show because it shows contestants actually creating clothing, not eating bugs or doing obstacle courses. But the runaway star has been Tim Gunn, who gives advice to the contestants and creating a trademark phrase in “Make it work.” It became a major hit for Bravo, which created a raft of spinoffs such as “Top Chef.” Its s shift to Lifetime was an ugly behind-the-scenes legal issue, not because the show was dying. Its move to Lifetime led to the show’s worst season but it has since picked up steam the past two cycles.
- ABC’s ‘Dancing With the Stars” (2005-present). I mocked this show at first. Believe it or not, it was a summer fill-in show like “Idol.” The concept sounded so dopey that I predicted it would stumble and fall. Obviously,I was wrong. Tom Bergeron, the host, is deft at making light of the competition without mocking it. The judge’s panel includes the over-the-top hilarious Bruno Tonioli. And the often C-grade celebrities often used this show as a launch pad for bigger and better things (see Mario Lopez) or at least a grasp at greater respectability (Jerry Springer). Heck, it even made us honor a great American in Buzz Aldrin. This past season, Bristol Palin fueled the show to some of its highest ratings to date. (I’m curious to see how many folks who say they refuse to ever watch again because of her presence actually keep to their word come springtime.)
— I could include “The Apprentice” (2004-present), but it has had a more checkered life than these other shows. It opened huge but lost momentum very quickly and the original incarnation died in 2007. To survive, Donald Trump had to create a “Celebrity” edition, which does okay but is hardly a savior to NBC. This fall’s effort to bring back the original version failed miserably.