I love the first season of reality TV series. It’s after that where the good ones start their decline.
I can give you countless example of what happens, but here’s the formula:
Season One: Your introduction to a person or people in an unusual circumstance doing cool things that you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. These episodes are very documentary in style. They stand back and let you view the action from a relatively close proximity. Their characters come out through normal actions. It’s fun.
Season Two: The producers realize that they have a hit, and that’s why they have a season two. So everything must be BIGGER and BETTER. So the producers stop the documentary nature of the series and start forcing the “stars” of the show into fish-out-of-water situations. Their reactions — whether of fright or of excitement — are captured and teased at every commercial break.
Suddenly, the situations are no longer real. The reactions are, but the people in the reality show would never be there without the reality show.
Season Three: Everything falls apart completely, as the “stars” of the reality show start to think of themselves as “stars.” They’ve seen their press. They’ve watched their episodes. They know the drill. Now, they overact and overemote. Everything is life-and-death. The once documentary nature of the show has drifted into complete dramedy, only missing a script by the barest of Hollywood technicalities.
See “Jon and Kate” for the prime example. We went from being amazed at their grocery gbills to watching them appear on Oprah to watching the paparazzi stalk them as Kate discusses her life as a celebrity to the camera. See “Cake Boss,” which went from making cakes for local people and small organizations to making cakes for the Army AND VISITING THE BASE TO FIRE WEAPONS along the way. See “The Real World,” which hasn’t been the same since the cast grew to expect to have jobs or to have their one big vacation or to wonder who they should kick out of the house for maximum drama. See “Survivor,” where players learned to play the game from previous seasons and now play the game more than the people. (This is almost forgivable. It is, ultimately, a game show. But, still, you can see the producers working harder and harder to come up with outrageous stunts, crazier personalities, and new twists in the game play.) See “Big Brother,” while you’re at it.
The competitive shows suffer from this to a slightly lesser degree, but it still holds. Look at “Dancing With The Stars” or even “So You Think You Can Dance.” SYTYCD has ditched its old stage for an overlarge glitzy neon-fest, while the judges rip the dancers apart whenever they fail to deliver a five star performance. It’s almost like nothing is good enough for them. Look at “DWTS” where they add bigger casts (still fitting in the same molds — football star? Old man? Olympic athlete? etc.) and push them even harder to the point where a new one is injured every week. They’re not just doing one dance every week now. They often do two, or an extra group number, or a faster Quick Step, etc.
Here’s what the second season of “Cake Boss” has taught me: Enjoy the first season of these reality shows. Then move on, because they’ll never be the same again