They're Real, ButAre They Spectacular?

Much more goes into producing reality shows—whether competition or documentary style—than meets the eye. Or perhaps it does all meet the eye, from The Voice’s slick professional performances to Dancing With the Stars’ beautifully choreographed live numbers to The Amazing Race’s logistical challenges. But viewers are so used to seeing these seamless shows that they take all of that production for granted. That, at least, may be the perspective of network executives who are hoping their shows get the chance to vie for statues on Emmy night.

“Every week, our team makes The Voice look like an awards show, complete with unique choreography, band set-up, lights, hair, makeup and costumes,” says Paul Telegdy, NBC president of alternative and late-night programming. “Each performance is so diligently and lovingly prepared for the audience.”

The Voice is a heavy favorite this year to be nominated as best reality competition series, repeating last year’s nomination. Per usual, The Voice is expected to be up against CBS’ perennial winner, The Amazing Race. Amazing Race has won this category every year since 2003, the year that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) created the category, except for 2010, when it was upset by Bravo’s Top Chef, which is also likely to be nominated this year.

Those three—Amazing Race, The Voice and Top Chef—have to be considered this category’s leading contenders, although other strong possibilities include ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance and Lifetime’s Project Runway, all of which were nominated last year. Two heavyweights, Fox’s American Idol and CBS’ Survivor, were not nominated last year and thus can’t be considered shoo-ins for nods.

In any case, reality producers are pining for an upset. Amazing Race has been so dominant that if the Emmy reality competition category were itself a reality show, it would have only one all-star. “For such an inventive genre, at a certain point that diversity has to be celebrated,” argues John Saade, ABC executive VP, alternative series and late night.

‘Dynasty’, ‘Boss’ Likely to Face Off

Reality competition and reality series have blown up in the past year, with A&E’s Duck Dynasty one of the highest-rated shows on TV. While ratings don’t guarantee nominations, it might be hard for Emmy voters to ignore that show in the oustanding reality program category.

“What makes [Duck Dynasty] worthy of an Emmy are the same reasons that people watch it: It’s an innovative reality show that appeals to multiple age groups. In the past, there’s been a sense that bad behavior makes good television. This show bucks the trend and is a rare example of good behavior making good television,” says David McKillop, A&E executive VP/GM.

Last year, Duck Dynasty wasn’t even on Emmy’s radar, with CBS’ Undercover Boss taking home the outstanding reality program trophy. Undercover Boss remains a strong contender this year, along with ABC’s Shark Tank and Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters and the Emmy-winning Deadliest Catch, which this season told the story of how Captain Phil’s sons are carrying on the family crab-fishing business following their father’s passing in 2010. “This season, one of the main stories was about the tension and struggle of next-generation captains coming up through this competitive world,” says Eileen O’Neill, Discovery president and general manager.

In a possible precursor to the Emmys, at last week’s Critics’ Choice Awards, The Voice was named best reality competition series, while Duck Dynasty tied with Sundance’s Push Girls as best reality series.

In the end, what reality show producers are seeking—and hope to see honored at the Emmys— are new ways to tell stories. Says Jennifer Bresnan, CBS executive VP of alternative programming: “For me, the great challenge and the great thrill is to find that perspective that puts a new lens on something we’ve been looking at this whole time. That’s what’s exciting about what we do: the perspective and the context.”

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Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.