A Look at Current Reality TV Offerings
By Mark Clayman |
Reality television dates back farther than many people think. The 1940’s daytime game show Queen for a Day is often considered a first model for current unscripted programs, followed by Allen Funt’s hit series Candid Camera that featured producers with hidden recording devices capturing people’s reactions to unsuspected pranks. The Real World, which first aired on MTV in 1992 and described itself as “the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house,” kicked off the modern reality TV craze, which exploded in the early 2000s with shows like Survivor, American Idol and Big Brother.
These days, reality TV has found new success on streaming platforms, with Discovery Plus accounting for nearly 35% of the most popular programs on channels like TLC, Food Network, A&E, History, Lifetime, Animal Planet and more, according to Parrot Analytics data. Hulu comes in second with 21% of demand for available reality series, followed by Peacock, Paramount Plus and Netflix. “Reality television has the ability of putting out new content quickly and quite inexpensively, as compared to long-form scripted drama,” said Kevin Westcott, a vice chairman at Deloitte US. Here’s a look at a few programs that have captured attention.
Looks of Love
Demand for original reality programming on Netflix has grown by over 50% since January 2020, thanks to hit shows like Love is Blind and Indian Matchmaking, which both premiered that year. The former, hosted by Nick and Vanessa Lachey, features “singles who want to be loved for who they are, rather than what they look like,” according to producers. Subjects kick off their journey in isolation, allowed to converse freely but unable to see each other. Deep connections are made, and proposals follow—all before the couples meet in person. The streamer announced that season 3 will be coming to Netflix later this year. However, an official release date hasn’t been announced.
Indian Matchmaking, meanwhile, returned for its second season while a third installment goes into production. The Emmy-nominated show follows Sima Taparia, a no-nonsense matchmaker from Mumbai, as she enters the homes of men and women in the US and India to create “love marriages”—aka, arranged unions. Approximately 90% of marriages in India are still arranged, with dowry and finishing schools for brides (where girls take lessons on how to be ideal wives) playing a part in the process. The show has sparked both outrage and devotion—which may be contributors to its success.
Additional titles worth watching include The Ultimatum, seen as perhaps an even crazier spinoff of Love is Blind; Jewish Matchmaking, from the producers of Indian Matchmaking; and Love on the Spectrum, originally an Australian show about people on the autism spectrum entering the dating world.
Art Imitates Life
Amazon renewed reality competition series Making the Cut for a third season, giving Americans another summer sneak peek into the hunt for the next big fashion brand. Supermodel Heidi Klum and fashion guru Tim Gunn produce and host the hit show that first aired in March 2020, with Nicole Richie returning as a judge. Each year, 10 talented designers from around the world take part in various contests for the chance to win $1 million to invest in their business. This season’s LA setting will include runway shots on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, a rooftop competition on a downtown LA skyscraper and an event hosted in the desert of Vasquez Rocks. The premiere is set for August 9.
RuPaul’s Drag Race returned for season seven, after breaking records as March’s most in-demand reality series with over 30 times the average demand for other shows. In a new twist this year, all eight Queens will be winners from previous seasons, stretching back as far as 2011. The Paramount Plus Emmy Award-winning hit follows drag queens competing in fashion and performance challenges for the glory of a $200,000 cash prize and the “Queen of All Queens” crown. Sweden became the latest country to commission a version of RuPaul’s Drag Race, joining Thailand, Chile, Canada, Holland, the UK, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Philippines, and Italy as countries where local versions of the show are made.
And be on the lookout for a Dr. Seuss-themed baking competition series from Amazon, which is currently casting pro bakers. Each unscripted episode will show cake masters crafting confections inspired by timeless Dr. Seuss books and characters, such as The Grinch or The Cat in the Hat. Expect artful wonders too stunning to eat.
Peacock’s reality series aims to help people get ready to die. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, based on an eponymous bestselling book by Margareta Magnusson, will star a Swedish Death Cleaner (not yet cast) in charge of performing a Marie Kondo-style reorganization on people’s lives, rather than their closets. Amy Poehler will narrate the series, but it’s currently unclear whether she will appear on camera. In a distinctly Swedish minimalist style, the host will enter people’s homes and free them from clutter, enabling them to share treasured mementos so families needn’t be burdened by unnecessary possessions after the subject dies. “Queer Eye reshaped the way we look at life, and The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning will transform the way we look at death,” said executive producer David Collins.
It’s no secret that reality shows reel us in and keep us wanting more. Often, they prompt us to pause and contemplate how we’d respond in a similar situation, which psychologists say can be a good exercise in exploring inner values and true motivations. These programs also serve as mirrors—as reality grows more intense and makes less sense, reality television follows suit. That escape can be a useful way of dealing with challenges otherwise perceived as overwhelming. And in the end, this genre just makes for really good TV.