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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 19, 2003

TV's new reality is you've seen it before

By Gary Levin
USA Today

 •  A real slump

No "reality" series that has premiered since late February has attracted near the audiences drawn by the genre's earlier success stories:

Hits: (Average viewers, in millions)

"Joe Millionaire "(Fox) 22.9
"American Idol" (Fox) 21.6
"The Bachelorette" (ABC) 16.7


"Are You Hot?" (ABC) 8.9
"Let's Make a Deal" (NBC) 8.7
"Married by America" (Fox) 8.6
"I'm a Celebrity" (ABC) 8.3
"The Family" (ABC) 7.6
"All American Girl" (ABC) 6.7
"Profiles From the Front Line" (ABC) 6.2

— Source: Nielsen Media Research

"Are You Hot?" Hardly. "Married by America?" No thanks.

In the wake of mega-sized so-called reality hits "American Idol," "Joe Millionaire" and "The Bachelor," a string of copycat series all looking for ratings gold in recent weeks are tanking.

Fox's "Married," NBC's game revival "Let's Make a Deal" and ABC's "Hot?," "The Family" and" I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" were ratings disappointments.

Last week's premiere of talent-search "All American Girl" was the biggest letdown yet, despite its pedigree from the producers of "Idol." Even patriotic "Profiles From the Front Line," a timely docu-style series that features military heroes hunting al-Qaida terrorists, hasn't clicked with viewers.

Inevitable? Maybe. TV often is flooded with new shows that mimic hits, burning out viewers.

"I don't think it's really surprising," says analyst Steve Sternberg of ad-buying firm Magna Global USA. "As more and more of these clones come out, I think people are getting tired of them. How many versions of 'Idol' and 'The Bachelor' can you stand?"

Some suffer by competing head to head for viewers in the same time slots. But quality is also a factor: Critics — and evidently viewers, too — say the new crop of shows just isn't any good. After all, how else to explain why "Joe Millionaire," a mere twist on the rose-giving "Bachelor," proved far more popular than its forerunner, even though it arrived 10 months later?

Several other new reality series had promising starts in early January. But the easy victories are over.

"There was a feeling that this was a slam-dunk, no-chance-to-miss genre," CBS research chief David Poltrack says. "What we're finding out is, the best ones got on first. They all premiered at different times and captured viewers' attention one by one."

Now, he says, the unyielding TV law of averages, which holds that four of five new shows are doomed to fail, is taking hold of reality.

Third-place ABC concedes that throwing so many new series on at once — to see whether any were worthy of a slot on its fall schedule — may have been unwise. "Our aim was to try out four or five shows with short arcs, in anticipation of our scheduling meetings in May," ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne says. "We didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to get attention ... in the quiet months of spring."

Yet viewers are hardly giving up on the genre: Fox's "Idol" and CBS' "Survivor" remain in the top 5, more popular than their last seasons; "The" "Bachelor," ABC's No. 1 series, returns for a fourth season March 26; and NBC's gross-out "Fear Factor" last week earned its highest ratings yet, more than 18 million viewers.