The 5 most inexplicably popular reality shows

Wed May 12, 2010 12:38am EDT
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - There are lame reality shows that are modestly popular. There are vapid reality shows that are hugely popular (E!'s "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" is their queen).

But then there are super popular reality shows that, on paper, shouldn't work at all (or, at least, shouldn't be nearly as popular as they've managed to become). This is their story.


The show seemingly lacks a key ingredient. You can hear contestants sing on "American Idol," watch them dance on "Dancing With the Stars," watch them race on "Amazing Race." But unlike other hit competition reality series on TV, you cannot play along at home, you cannot judge from the sofa. In other words, you cannot taste the food on "Top Chef." To networks, this factor is usually a crucial component when picking shows. Nearly every dish sounds and looks pretty swell. Yet viewers have no clue how dishes taste, and therefore which is the winning dish, until the judges tell them. Tom Colicchio and his cohorts could be complete liars and viewers would never know.

Why it works: It's an expertly produced competition and, hey, viewers can still imagine what the dishes taste like, right?


This show has been like some kind of media relations magic trick -- corporate PR porn during a recession. Yes, the premiere had a mammoth "Super Bowl" lead-in, but that's never been a guarantee of continued success. In a way, "Boss" has managed to celebrit-ize the CEO, who's always just an aw-shucks decent family man who's shocked to discover some light bulbs don't work inside Store #541.

Why it works: The undercover format adds some tension (Will the CEO be discovered? Will he discover an embarrassing problem?) followed by cathartic feel-good resolution when the CEO of a billion-dollar company gives a teary-eyed wage slave a $5,000 scholarship.   Continued...