If you’re like most people, you haven’t been watching Fox’ Utopia. Probably because it was terrible. So why should you care if a show you aren’t watching has been canceled? Because this hopefully rings the death knell for a specific type of reality tv.
Admittedly, I’m not the best person to discuss the value of reality tv. I’m not a fan of the genre with the exception of Top Chef (and don’t look so smug, Top Chef. I haven’t forgiven you for Nina yet.) But everyone can basically agree that there are two main types of reality shows: average people doing amazing things in some form of competition, and average people doing totally unbelievable things in their “normal” lives. The first camp include the staples of reality tv: Survivor, The Amazing Race, American Idol. The second include your various Housewives, Duck Dynasty, and whatever Party Down South is. The first camp costs a buttload to make ($2 million per episode for American Idol as of 2012), the second usually run between $100,000 and $500,000 per episode.
But again, why should you care about that? Because most people’s reason for watching either show is the same: watching people fuck with each other. One show’s concept might be slightly more interesting than another, or you might prefer watching people face off on The Amazing Race more than on The Jersey Shore. But by and large, since Richard Hatch took off his pants and put on his alliance hat, reality tv has been a voyeuristic exercise. It’s gossiping on a national level. Back stabbing, hooking up, fights ending with emotional breakthroughs? High school and reality tv thrive on this shit. So why should a network pay $50 million dollars for that level of human drama when they could pay a fifth of the cost? I’m hoping they won’t.
I’m hoping they’ll keep the cheaper but still totally satisfying reality shows, and funnel the money back into scripted tv. What could we buy with that extra $40 million dollars? Another season of Firefly. 13 episodes of Arrested Development. Or maybe a full season and a half shot for Enlisted to make an impression?
I’m hoping we’ve reach some sort of reality tv equilibrium. Every variety of “watching people do stuff” show be available. Just as long as it doesn’t cut into my Parks and Recreation budget.