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What makes a reality series last? (Op-Ed)

Making a reality show last as long as possible is no easy feat. Depending on the show, the formula will change accordingly. However, it all circles back to one thing: hooking the audience in and keeping them interested.

With competition shows, the formula for success usually includes how everyone on camera interacts with each other, and just how the competition is run. The original So You Think You Can Dance was much longer than the current version. More time was taken to get to know the dancers, decisions were made much more carefully, there was an emphasis on different genres, and, all around, the dances were breathtaking.

With the new format, it’s as if someone told the crew “Finish this season ASAP.” There are fewer contestants, they’re cut too quickly, less focus is placed on different genres, and the routines aren’t as captivating. The show is also trying too hard to stay “current”, with the judges being younger people in the dancing world to attract the demographic showrunners are going for.

Shows don’t always have to adopt a “new” or “current” format to be successful, and Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef is proof of this. While all shows change eventually, MasterChef didn’t go overboard. The favorite challenges, mystery boxes and team challenge, quickly became a staple for the show. Meanwhile, parts of the early competition that weren’t as popular, demonstrating knife skills, for instance, were removed.

Rather than change the format completely, a slight, almost insignificant, detail is done each season to make the competition more fun. While one season showed the judges having their own “teams”, others emphasized home cooks from different areas of the US and, as of this year, different generations. Aside from Gordon, the judges did, like any show, change periodically, but always within the same rotation of people, with guest judges often being former winners or competitors.

The saying goes “If it works don’t fix it”. While it’s important to remember what the audience likes, we can’t stick with the same format forever. What audiences want out of their shows changes constantly and, as a result, the shows have to change with them. The key is finding the right balance between staying current and keeping what old fans like. Anything else, and a series might be over sooner than expected.


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