Okay, before anyone starts commenting, “What about ‘The Amazing Race’?” or “This isn’t a complete list without ‘Survivor’!” or whatever variation you might be contemplating, let me clarify that my top 10 list of reality shows doesn’t encapsulate all of the broad and varied spectrum of reality TV. For my own sanity, I’ve been limiting the parameters of my top 10 to the realm of basic cable (although I am thinking next year I might change the focus simply to the content itself as opposed to where you find it, such as “so bad they’re good” shows or competition reality or something like that, just to keep it interesting). There is one notable exception this year, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Everyone knows and loves the Big Four network stuff. A lot of it is, of course, great. But there’s something oddly wonderful about stumbling across a little gem of a show (or, in the case of some of the big ratings break-outs, climbing aboard a runaway train) while clicking through the hundreds and hundreds of stations most of us have at our disposal.
Some of the shows in my top 10 have a tiny fraction of the viewers network shows do — and at least one has a whole lot more than even successful primetime shows bring in. The landscape is changing constantly, and how we intake media is changing, too. Maybe next year I’ll just pick the top 10 reality shows I can watch instantly on my phone or on my glasses.
But let’s get back to the notable exception. I couldn’t resist it, in part because I’m still a little amazed that this show is on a network (ABC, if you’re wondering). It’s the right place for it, I think, but I could easily see it on any of ten basic cable networks. As basic cable shows draw in bigger audiences, and as we consume media in different ways, I suspect we’ll see more television like it on the Big Four — seemingly niche programming on the surface, but hitting all the traditional reality TV notes. For that reason, I made an exception.
But then, my top 10 really just boils down to the shows I love to watch, whether or not they can be defined as “quality” programming or reach some arbitrary external standard. Some I like for reasons entirely contrary to what the creators are probably hoping (just FYI, I am not a conspiracy theorist, for example). Television, especially as audiences become more fractured, continues to splinter into a million different directions. These days, there truly is something for everyone, and while I don’t expect anyone to agree with all or even some of my choices, maybe you’ll be inspired to sample something you haven’t watched previously. And really, how many more lists touting “Breaking Bad” and “Orange Is the New Black” do you need to read, anyway?