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This Time Around, Three Amazing Races in Reality

Reality producers will now get one more chance to win a major award at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmys on Aug. 25, with the Television Academy this year adding a third major category to the competition. Reality series are to be considered under three different categories: reality competition, structured reality and unstructured reality.

What defines a reality competition show is well-known: any series in which someone wins and everyone else loses falls in there, and that includes CBS’ multi-Emmy-winner The AmazingRace, CBS’ Survivor, Bravo’s Top Chef, ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance, Lifetime’s Project Runway and last year’s winner, NBC’s The Voice.

The difference between structured and unstructured reality is a little less obvious, but docu-series such as A&E’s Duck Dynasty and Bravo’s Real Housewives are considered unstructured, while shows that follow a format each episode, such as ABC’s Shark Tank and Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker, are considered structured.

In 2013, the nominees for outstanding reality program were PBS’ Antiques Roadshow; Discovery’s Deadliest Catch and MythBusters; Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives; ABC’s Shark Tank and the winner, CBS’ Undercover Boss. This year, shows such as Shark Tank and Undercover Boss will compete in the structured reality category. That allows more docu-series, which are hugely popular with shows like Duck Dynasty attracting millions of viewers, to contend for noms.

“In 2013, we had almost 100 entries in the outstanding reality category,” says John Leverence, TV Academy senior VP of awards. “People in the reality field came to the board and pointed out that there are two kinds of reality.”

Reality producers are pleased with the change, especially considering that reality programs now outnumber scripted series by nearly four to one, according to Rob Sharenow, Lifetime executive VP/GM.

“I welcome any new awards being added,” says Eden Gaha, president of unscripted TV for Shine America (NBC’s The Biggest Loser; Fox’s MasterChef and MasterChef Junior; Oxygen’s The Face). “It’s really positive that the Academy is recognizing another category.”

“The reality genre is growing and changing,” says Shari Levine, Bravo senior VP of original productions (including Top Chef, Real Housewives, Million-Dollar Listing, Shahs of Sunset and Flipping Out). “We think it’s appropriate to salute and applaud different categories.”

“It was glaringly odd when you had categories competing against each other rather unfairly,” says Sharenow, whose network features such potential nominees as Dance Moms and Preachers’ Daughters.

“One year you had My Life on the D List, Intervention and Antiques Roadshow the same category, and you can’t name three more different shows,” Sharenow adds. “How you direct or shoot a show changes depending on whether you are structured, unstructured or competition.”

True Value

Meanwhile, the nonfiction/documentary series category remains intact, with fact-filled shows such as PBS’ Nova and American Experience competing for the trophy.

Last year, nominees in the nonfiction or documentary series category were PBS’ The Abolitionists (American Experience), PBS’ American Masters, History’s The Men Who Built America, Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole With Morgan Freeman and HBO’s Vice, recently renewed for season 3. This year, Fox’s no-holdsbarred remake, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, is a likely contender in the category.

“At its core, people are just fascinated by reality,” says Sharenow. “It gives you a glimpse into a sector of humanity that you wouldn’t ordinarily get to see. There’s a freshness and energy to reality genres that are able to take viewers into places they haven’t been before.”

Reality shows compete fiercely on the air, but producers have become wise to the fact that fans want to spend even more time with their favorites, so digital spinoffs are now common. These contend with other genres in several Emmy categories designed to recognize digital efforts, including interactive and short-form nonfiction. There are also some juried digital categories, including multiplatform storytelling, original interactive program, social TV experience and user experience and visual design.

“Content is content,” says Lisa Hsia, executive VP of Bravo and Oxygen Digital Media and a producer on Bravo’s Emmy-winning digital offering, Last Chance Kitchen. “Putting additional content on digital platforms gives our fans the opportunity to engage with our shows 24/7.”