While the docureality genre has exploded on cable over the past decade—thanks to Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Duck Dynasty, Pawn Stars, Jersey Shore and the various Real Housewives—the reality competition field has been incredibly stagnant with the same veterans ruling the field year after year. In the 11 years since the category was introduced, only 10 series have been nominated, five as many as seven times. The Amazing Race alone has 11 straight nominations and nine wins.
Since the competition category was expanded from five to six slots in 2011, there has been only one change, when The Voice replaced American Idol on the list of nominees in 2012. The Voice went even further last year when it became only the second show to upset The Amazing Race and win the Emmy. But with the drought in the competition reality genre continuing with no new breakouts in the past year (ABC has high hopes for its summer entry Rising Star), a major shakeup in the roster of nominees is once again unlikely. Here’s how this year’s crop of all-too-familiar contenders stands:
The Age Effect
The first singing show to win a reality competition Emmy, and only the second ever to beat The Amazing Race, The Voice is a relative newcomer. Youth is on its side as, at three years of age, it is at least five years younger than its main competitors. For the first time, it is the show to beat.
The Amazing Race, CBS’ globe-trotting series, has nabbed the Emmy nine out of 11 years, only bested last year by The Voice and in 2010 by Top Chef. It is still a gold standard, and a nomination is all but guaranteed. But it also is the oldest among the top contenders. Would it be able to reclaim its Emmy crown?
Survivor, which helped launch the primetime reality genre but has been left off the nominees list the past seven years, has been renewed for a milestone 30th season. An Emmy return after such a long break could be tough, but voters might be impressed by the series’ longevity. Also seeking a comeback is Jeff Probst, who won the reality host Emmy for four consecutive years before dropping out of the nominations the last two years in one of Emmy’s bigger surprises.
Nominated every year since 2007, Bravo’s Top Chef made Emmy history when it snapped The Amazing Race’s winning streak. The most recent season’s shocking finale, in which under-seasoning/overthinking screamer Nicholas Elmi took the win, upset some fans but made for dramatic TV. With Project Runway co-hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn sharing last year’s Emmy for best reality show host, and the series having previously been nommed every year since 2005, Lifetime is counting on a 10th consecutive nomination. So You Think You Can Dance was a big beneficiary of the expansion from five to six nominees in 2011, when it joined the field and has been on the nom list ever since. The Fox dance derby is among those favored by Emmy voters—last year it earned seven noms—though it’s always a bridesmaid in this best-of-show category.
The Shakeup Factor
ABC’s long-running celebrity-stuffed dance competition, Dancing with the Stars, has been nominated every year since ’06. A ninth straight nomination would be a nice going-away present for the original showrunner, Conrad Green, who is leaving after 18 seasons. But the recent overhaul, which included the unpopular-with-diehards replacements of bandleader Harold Wheeler and co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet (for Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews) could make a nom more of a wild card. Changes at American Idol, including new exec producers and replacing cat-fighting judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey with JLo and fan fave Harry Connick Jr., have not helped the show’s ratings. But would Emmy voters be more impressed? With The Voice certain to return as a nominee, the question is whether the field has room for two singing competitions the way it has accommodated two dancing shows. Before being pushed out by The Voice in 2012, Idol had been nommed every year since the category’s inception.
With the old guard keeping its grip firm, it’s been impossible for a cable series other than Top Chef and Project Runway to break in. There had been a slew of long-running shows that have scored with viewers but are yet to impress Emmy voters, including RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo, Face Off on Syfy and Food Network Star on the Food Network. Ditto for TV’s top reality chef, Gordon Ramsay, who has added some serious cuteness factor with his latest series, Masterchef Jr. Also yet to score a nomination is NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Maybe new judge Heidi Klum’s Emmy luck on Project Runway will rub off on the veteran talent show?
Splitting the Vote
Reality’s Emmy expansion continues as the Television Academy’s Board of Governors recently voted to split the outstanding reality program field into separate “structured” (MythBusters, Antiques Roadshow) and “unstructured” (Duck Dynasty, Real Housewives) categories, upping the number of reality Emmy slots from zero to eight in 14 years.
Undercover Boss is coming off back-to-back wins for best reality program, making the CBS show an instant top contender for the newly created structured reality program category. It will square off against ABC’s Shark Tank, which has quietly grown into a juggernaut. Likely to land another nomination is PBS veteran Antiques Roadshow, which tops the list of reality program nominations with eight. Discovery’s MythBusters is going for a fifth nomination. Both are seeking their first win. Dick Wolf, who has been out of the Emmy game for several years, has an unscripted contender in TNT’s Cold Justice.
The buzzy genre, which has produced such hits as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Real Housewives, Pawn Stars and Jersey Shore, as well as Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, now is getting a chance to shine with its own unstructured reality program category. Such shows have not done well since the reality program category’s launch in 2001, when PBS docuseries American High won, followed in 2002 by MTV’s The Osbournes. In recent years, only ABC’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Discovery’s Deadliest Catch have had any Emmy love, winning in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Seth MacFarlane, who was unsuccessful in his quest to land a a best series Emmy for Family Guy, has a better shot in the unscripted field with the well received Cosmos followup.