Bravo Network has really hit a stride with their reality TV shows. I love their hit shows Top Chef and Project Runway because the subject matter is so specialized and it makes the show unique. When guest judges appear on an episode, they’re always these highly reputable people. Even if you’re not a chef or not into the food industry, and you have no idea why you should be excited about who the guest judge is on a show like Top Chef, you can tell by their reactions that this is someone of caliber. Which proves an interesting point: the viewer doesn’t really need to know the person to add drama, just knowing that the contestants themselves are excited lets us know how reputable the competition is. This brings prestige and quality to the reality show.
Because the contestants are professionals, guest judges are typically happy to be on a show like that judging something as exciting as new talent in their field. You’re not going to get the cream of the crop always on a show like American Idol, because the subject is so broad. There are a lot of singers out there, some great, some not. And it’s not a traditional career field where you have to have years of training or proven experience and ability. But shows like Top Chef and Project Runway are shows about professionals. And they center around industries that, compared to music or movies, get a lot less publicity. Consequently, if a prominent figure like Michael Kors or Vera Wang shows up on Project Runway, it’s a classy move that’s in their best interest, because it’s promotion for a field they want to showcase. On a show like American Idol, it’s not a great idea for the best of the best to be seen on such a reality show, because it would be viewed as sort of schmaltzy. The level of talent on a show like that is always a crap shoot, no pun intended. Even though shows like Shear Genius or Top Design weren’t ratings giants on Bravo, the motif was similar.
There tends to be more integrity on Bravo shows, where “faking the funk” isn’t really allowed. One notable non-Bravo exception would be So You Think You Can Dance that airs on Fox. America’s Next Top Model which airs on UPN could also be included, however the authenticity of that show has been significantly questioned. No amount of charisma can cover up lack of talent in a competition where the proof must be in the pudding, sometimes literally. Personality alone won’t get you through, and in fact, because personality is lower on the list of priorities, you’re much more likely to get an interesting added level of drama. For example, you might get a dozen designers on a show like Project Runway, and a few of them are complete jerks but make the most creative things. This integrity and dedication to the craft on which the show is based ensures that the drama will remain taut and intense until the end. The boundaries are a little more elastic on a show like American Idol, where you can have a person who embodies completely the opposite of the show’s objective, for example William Hung, and they can become famous based on charisma or personality or overall absurdity.
Even considering talent requirements, Bravo sets itself apart yet again with the last component: professional judges. Even on a show like So You Think You Can Dance where professionalism is highlighted, the show rests heavily on audience voting. Audience voting is a good way to secure ratings and millions of dollars in .25 cent texts, but that can end in unexpected snafus such as last season, when the panel was forced to choose between the least popular couples to vote off, and inadvertently had to do away with the two talents in the competition who were perceived by them to be the strongest. The general public knows what they want, but ultimately we look to the “wow!” of the experts to tell us what we want to see more of. So on Bravo reality TV, where the experts decide the fate of the contestants, I would argue that the viewer is treated to a more satisfying and balanced experience. Although, the exception would be when the judges of Top Chef voted off Trey, a consistently praised contestant, in the current season for some entirely unjustifiable reason.
The Bravo network has taken into account artistry, industry, and excellence with their unique brand of reality TV. It draws in admirers from both within the respective industries and without. All manner of participants, whether judges or contestants, assuredly take pride in their work, and the results garner a genuine aspect to the show that doesn’t rely so blatantly on irresponsible editing or scripted moments. What the viewer gets is a quality of genuine drama that rivals traditional scripted TV. These are all reasons why I think Bravo is the current leader in award winning reality shows. With this magic formula that they have pioneered and stayed with, the proof will be when these shows continue to bring in audience members old and new, season after season, for years to come.