There was a point where we couldn’t take our eyes off of the myriad of reality shows that hit our television screens. But that shine is starting to wear off on voyeuristic programming.
Viewership is down across the top 50 U.S. broadcast reality TV series after decades of dominating primetime slots, according to consumer research firm Statista. Shows like American Idol, Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover, and Hell’s Kitchen kept audiences tuning in nightly for the latest drama, reveals, and competitions. During the 2009/2010 season, more than a third of the top 50 views went to unscripted reality television, according to Statistica. Now, unscripted shows total 12.3% of viewers.
Once a major category in the realm of entertainment, reality shows once came out in droves because they are relatively cheap to produce compared to scripted series. As a boom of unscripted competition shows and glimpses into the “real lives” of celebrity families took over television, a new genre was born as it minted reality stars as legit public figures.
However, reality television has since entered its silver years as a fill-in for networks facing an empty fall lineup resulting from the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes halting Hollywood production.
Prior to the strikes, reality shows were already beset by a flood of scripted content across multiple platforms, making it hard for all but a few programs to reach big audiences. As the strikes conclude, reality television could take another ratings hit, facing competition from long-awaited films and series put on hold.
A report from Nielsen shows how far unscripted series have plummeted over the decades. Reality programming barely squeaks into the top 20 televised shows. The Voice ranks 19th and 20th on the list, far below scripted series like Yellowstone, which secured second place behind NFL Sunday Night Football. American Idol, once a must-see for audiences since its launch, landed in 23rd place, above Survivor listed at 25th.
Unscripted television hasn’t been eliminated from the competition this season. The U.S. still makes up 36% of all reality show audiences, in fourth place behind South Africa (60%), India (46%), and Australia (42%).