For Better or Worse, Oscar-Winning Talent May Revive the Television's Waning Reality-Competition Genre
It feels like the reality television craze is finally, blissfully, starting to wane. The most recent Nielsen ratings contained only two reality shows in the top 20 (Survivor and The Voice), while The X-Factor is close to cancellation and American Idol is a shell of its former self. Sure Duck Dynastystill manages huge ratings, but even that show is basically scripted programming, with real people playing heightened versions of themselves. Network television is finally producing hits again, and they’re not half bad, either (Sleepy Hollow, The Blacklist, Agents of SHIELD and Almost Human are the year’s break-outs, so far), and with the rise of quality on cable, the networks are trying to compete, which has meant (mostly) tossing aside the quick reality-show gimmicks that might produce decent short-term ratings, but damage the network’s long-term reputation.
The the quality of scripted television has also been able to attract talented film stars like James Spader or Kevin Bacon, Kevin Spacey, John Goodman, and even Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey (who will star in HBO’s True Detective in January). That trend has also moved into reality television. The most successful reality show right now, of course, is The Voice, and it’s been able to rise up thanks to top-tier celerity judges, like Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aquilera, instead of B- and C-listers that once made up the celebrity judge panels.
According to Radar, this is precisely what Dancing with the Stars — which has been sliding in the ratings — hopes to do, as well. They’re purportedly reaching to to Renee Zellwegger in the hopes that if they can land her, they can create an all Oscar-winners roster of contestants. Zellwegger is not as in-demand as she once was (she hasn’t made a film in over three years), but she still carries some of that A-list weight. Zellwegger has apparently rejected initial offers, but DWTS producers hope they can ultimately offer her enough money to bring her on. Who would follow? I’m not sure. Certainly washed-up Oscar winners like Cuba Gooding, Jr. would jump, but could they also get a Catherine Zeta Jones, or a Marisa Tomei, a Jean Dujardin, or a Timothy Hutton?
Probably. It would almost certainly re-energize the series (at least in the short term), but it may also open the door for other major-minor celebrities to come aboard. That’s good for reality shows, but it’s probably not so great for the overall quality of television, which could see another wave of reality television featuring more relevant, and more popular actors, and the inescapable cycle would begin anew. It’s only a matter of time before we see Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard competing together on Survivor, and as much as I hate to admit it, I’d watch the crap out of that.
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