The reality TV year has developed its own distinct seasons. The spring is always dominated by “American Idol,” while summer brings both guilty pleasures and solid returners, in addition to whatever new shows networks want to throw against the wall to see if their brand of sludge sticks. Once fall arrives, the schedule quiets down, as networks play it safe with old favorites, such as “Survivor,” and the occasional new show.
This fall, ABC will bring back most of its familiar reality TV offerings, but won’t debut a new series until mid-season. Returning for its fifth season Sept. 24 is “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, Mondays at 8 p.m. ET, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET). The network has yet to announce the full list of quasi-celebrities who will participate, but “90210”’s Jennie Garth and Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown have both confirmed they’re participating, and singer Wayne Newton has signed on. Also rumored to be dancing away this season: Garth’s co-star Tori Spelling.
Ty Pennington and crew will return with more “Extreme Home Makeover” (ABC, Sept. 30, Sundays, 8 p.m. ET), turning decaying houses with heartwarming occupants into stunning homes with Sears appliances. The show's 100th episode will feature a Minnesota family of five who took in four children after their mother was murdered.
Back for an almost incomprehensible 11th season is “The Bachelor” (ABC, Sept. 24, Mondays, 10 p.m. ET). The new rose-giver is Brad Womack, 34, who is part-owner of four Texas bars. Also returning to ABC will be “Wife Swap” and “Supernanny,” but they won’t reappear until mid-season (or perhaps earlier, if ABC cancels one of its new fall shows).
One of the most anticipated new reality shows also will not debut until mid-season. Its buzz mostly has to do with its producer, whose name is in the title: “Oprah’s Big Give.” The series will give money to its contestants, challenging them to use that cash to help other people. Each week, a contestant will go home, and the winner, according to reports, gets a wish granted by executive producer Oprah Winfrey.
FOX will use one of its summer stars, Gordon Ramsay, to headline one of its two reality shows this fall. The series, “Kitchen Nightmares” (FOX, Sept. 19, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET) won’t be new to viewers of BBC America, because it’s a US version of a UK show. On the series, “Hell’s Kitchen” star Ramsay works with the staffs of restaurants that are falling apart for one or more reasons. Previews suggest there will be lots of typical screaming from Ramsay, although he apparently gets some push-back from some of his charges as he works to bring their restaurants in line with his demanding standards.
FOX will also venture into the docudrama territory with "Nashville" (FOX, Sept. 14, 9 p.m. ET), which is from the producers of "Laguna Beach" and will basically be like that MTV show, but set in Nashville, Tenn. It follows "group of young people and their friendships, their failures and their quest for success in a town that can make or break them," according to FOX.
The network that brought us “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance” will apply the format to search for a great band, which will be called, oddly enough, “The Search for the Next Great American Band” (FOX, Oct. 19, Fridays, 8 p.m. ET). All age groups have been able to apply, and they can perform in any genre. Viewer votes, as usual, will determine the winner.
Over on CBS, Jeff Probst will be back on “Survivor” (CBS, Sept. 20, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET) for the show’s 15th season. It’s set in China — the first US TV show to film an entire season there. Every year, the show changes its format slightly, and for this installment, Exile Island has itself been exiled. The hidden immunity idols will return, however, and the show’s contestants can probably expect a twist or two.
But the reality show with real buzz on CBS is this fall’s most controversial new series, “Kid Nation” (CBS, Sept. 19, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET). While no one has seen anything more than a preview yet, some skepticism is understandable because the show’s format is most easily compared to the novel “Lord of the Flies”: 40 kids will be abandoned in a ghost town and will have to form their own society. None of those kids, who range in age from 8 to 14, will be voted out, but they’ll be able to leave if they want to; those who are the most respected by their peers will win $20,000 prizes.
NBC has only one reality show on its fall schedule (not counting game shows “Deal or No Deal” and “The Singing Bee”), and that’s the fourth season of “The Biggest Loser” (NBC, Sept. 11, Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET) This year, the show will have a new host, Alison Sweeney, but will also see the return of trainer Jillian Michaels. She will train a secret team of contestants who were rejected by the shows other two trainers, Kim and Bob.
NBC's other reality staple, "The Apprentice," seemed dead after Donald Trump publicly announced he was essentially quitting. But now he's coming back, although for an entirely different type of show: the seventh season, which airs mid-season, will feature celebrities competing to earn money for charity.
The CW, the network formed from UPN and the WB, will bring back its reality staples. “Beauty and the Geek 3” (The CW, Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET) will be identical to previous seasons except that one pair will be reversed, featuring a hot guy and a geek girl. Tyra Banks and crew are back to put a new string of wannabe models through Tyra’s model boot camp on “America’s Next Top Model” (The CW, Sept. 19, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET). Also back will be “The Search for the Next Doll,” which returns at some to-be-announced date to find another member for the Pussycat Dolls.
New for the CW is “Farmer Wants a Wife,” a dating show that will send city women to a farm to compete for a farmer’s affections. It’s supposed to air this fall but doesn’t yet have a debut date, and perhaps that’s for a good reason; it seems like the kind of throwaway, ridiculous concept that belongs in the summer, not in autumn with reality TV’s solid, mostly respectable workhorses.
Also, on cable, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, will search for her replacement on "The Search for the Next Elvira" (FOX Reality, Oct. 13, Saturdays, 9 p.m. ET). The short, three-episode competition will end with a new Elvira being selected live on Halloween, following a viewer vote.
is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.