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Will Oprah Change the Competitive Reality Television Game?

January 3, 2011

Nancy O'dell and Carson Kressley host OPRAH'S SEARCH FOR AMERICA'S NEXT TV STAR

One of the reasons I’ve not been particularly interested in reality television, particularly competition shows like Idol or Top Chef is because despite having experts within their respective fields, most shows lack the Oprah-like ability to guarantee success of their winners. And for the record, I don’t think spend the rest of your career singing, “Where is the Love” on a cruise ship denotes success and it certainly seems an especially cruel punishment for the crime of appearing on Idol. Reality television, from this outsider and casual viewer’s experience seems not about the destination, but the journey. This seems antithetical to the goals pursued by contestants willing to be snarked on and humiliated for the viewing pleasure of millions. Whatever superstars in their own industries reality show hosts and judges might be, rarely does their influence have the grasp of the queen of daytime television.

Wait, that’s Oprah, right? But the game changes when Oprah puts her name and unparalleled power behind the venture. More importantly, I’m kind of interested in seeing the show. That already makes the show a game changer in my book and it hasn’t even aired a single episode yet! Oprah’s Search for the Next Top TV Star is the name of the show and no it doesn’t end with her looking into a mirror and pronouncing the reflection the winner. Hosted by reality television vet Carson Kressley and enduring tabloid personality Nancy O’Dell, the ten hopefuls have solid examples of how to leverage scraps of talent, bravado and a can’t-take-no-for-answer attitude into a viable C list career. In addition with its roster touting inclusiveness reflecting disability, race, size, gender and so forth, perhaps the show might actually be interesting.

That said, since it is reality television, I’m not sure even Oprah can uplift the genre out of its swampy depths. Then again, she is often credited when cleaning up daytime television! So, are you ready for your OWN show? Here’s a preview of the show. Okay, reality television fanatics – I know you’re out there; you search for “Kirstie Alley 2010” like it’s your job – are going to bench your Friday night plans and watch the show? Do you think Oprah can change the reality television game?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2011 8:41 pm

    I’m definitely ready for Carson Kressley to helm a reality show again. For me, he was always the main attraction on QE. And I’m curious to see whether and how OWN manages to preserve the contestants’ dignity despite his presence.

  2. s.e. smith permalink
    January 3, 2011 8:57 pm

    I cannot say I’ll be watching this one, but you do bring up some interesting points about how it might be a game changer in the genre! Here’s hoping the attempt at diversity does not turn out like Glee.

  3. evmaroon permalink
    January 4, 2011 12:19 pm

    It’s so easy to have a bad contest! Awkward judges, contestants who look like they were cast by some inept producer who used a set of Jung archetype flash cards, cheap set design, and stilted dialogue that peppers in too many product placements. And worse! Certainly, the Food Network’s Next Food TV Star is one of these, and Kressely’s queermo former co-host Ted Allen has his own awful competition show, Chopped, so I wonder how many notes they’ve compared.

    But Oprah is a master storyteller, and certainly she knows how not to get hokey when she doesn’t want to. So it will be, at the very least, interesting!

    That said, be nice to my Top Chef and Project Runway! They’re at the quality end of this spectrum, I swear.

  4. Kia permalink
    January 4, 2011 12:42 pm

    @evmaroon, I thought your examples of a bad contest reality show were leading up to Bravo’s Top Design. Between Todd Oldham’s wooden hosting & Kelly Wearstler’s zany outfits it was so bad it was good.

  5. January 4, 2011 3:55 pm

    @evmaroon Oprah’s show actually reminds me of The Next Food Network Star, because her network, like FN, has a real power to launch the winner as a celebrity. So there’s a lot at stake to win this, unlike say, Chopped.

    What I like about this show is that it’s not niche. Most reality shows are looking for the top chef or designer or singer or dancer, but Oprah’s not looking for a specific kind of show and talk-show host, just a good personality. So I’d be interested to see what kind of challenges the contestants are given, and what show ultimately prevails.

    (I kind of hope it’s not a cooking show though, I feel like there are enough of those on cable. But the travel show with Zach could be awesome!)

  6. evmaroon permalink
    January 4, 2011 4:44 pm

    @Kia: Agreed on Top Design! It’s got the same kind of appeal to me that The Real Housewives series has. Which is to say they’re train wrecks of television.

  7. evmaroon permalink
    January 4, 2011 4:46 pm

    @popscribblings: I can’t take the Next Food Network Star as a show. It’s pretty unwatchable to me. How funny that such similar fare gets such different gut reactions from me…

  8. January 4, 2011 5:46 pm

    @evmaroon Oh no, it’s pretty bad. But despite myself I find it highly watchable, maybe because most of the contestants are incompetent and challenges are hilariously lame. Maybe I just have a lower threshold for pain? 😉

  9. hsofia permalink
    January 4, 2011 6:19 pm

    Fortunately, all reality shows are not created equal. I have no problem with reality shows that offer cash prizes. To me, a show like Chopped is a game show, period. And I like (some) game shows.

    I’m not sure even Oprah can guarantee success beyond the tv show she has to offer and I’d be surprised if there were not a year limit on the length of the initial TV show contract. In this way, I don’t see it as being much different than The Apprentice, Idol, or HGTV’s Design Star. Maybe the OWN show will be different in terms of classiness or maturity level, but I don’t see why it would be – is that going to garner better ratings?

  10. January 5, 2011 10:52 am

    @hsofia I think if Oprah really likes and believes in the winner of her show, she’ll do her best to promote him or her. She has shown she has the clout to make someone a star, based on the Oprah-approved careers of Dr. Phil, Nate Berkus, Rachael Ray and others.

    But I agree there’s only so much Oprah can do if the winner doesn’t do well in the ratings, because that what it comes down to. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  11. hsofia permalink
    January 5, 2011 1:32 pm

    @popscribblings – That’s a good point. Look what Oprah did for Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz! Maybe that is what snarkysmachine was referring to – Oprah’s personal championing of the winner. I agree that could make a huge difference, versus the sink-or-swim approach.

  12. Kaia permalink
    February 2, 2011 4:11 pm

    No. She is not an innovator. She just copies what’s already successful. And when she can’t copy she just gives a bunch of crap away to her sheeple.

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