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Reality shows are tweaking old formulas

Of the nine shows that populate the network's fall primetime lineup, every single one will be a new season of a returning show. By Andy Dehnart
/ Source: contributor

[Warning: Possible spoilers for fall reality shows abound. If you don't want to know, don't read.]

This fall, familiarity is the name of the network reality TV game. Of the nine shows that populate the network's fall primetime lineup, all except one will be a new season of a returning show. Summer was full of experimentation, and there were some successes ("Dancing with the Stars," "Hell's Kitchen," "Beauty and the Geek"). But for fall, it's back to established hits.

There will be a number of twists on familiar formulas, though. From Martha Stewart's version of "The Apprentice" to an "Amazing Race" run by kids and their families, networks are trying to keep older shows fresh.

"The Amazing Race 8" As its popularity has increased over the past year, during which three seasons have aired, "The Amazing Race" has also been subject to controversy. Its eighth season hasn't even aired yet, and already some fans are upset with the series. That's because, for the first time, as part of a special family edition, children as young as eight will be allowed to race. Teams of four may include younger children, or could include other people connected by blood and marriage.

There are also rumors that "The Amazing Race 8" will not leave the continent. The highly visible production was spotted filming at well-known locations all over North America, and thus it does seem as though this may be a lighter version of the intense around-the-world race that comprised the first seven seasons. In addition, a cast member from an earlier season has floated rumors that the whole show would be shelved because of kid-related problems. Since CBS has the series firmly on its schedule, that looks unlikely now, but we'll see if younger racers and a relaxed itinerary make for compelling television.

Premieres Sept. 27; airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS

"America's Next Top Model," cycle 5
Although "Top Model 5" again will feature a group of skinny women competing for a modeling contract, their quest just got a little easier. Acerbic, frightening judge Janice Dickinson will not be back. In interviews, she's said she asked for more money and was fired from the show. She'll be replaced by Twiggy. The only other consistently bitchy judge, Nole Marin, is also leaving, replaced by runway coach J. Alexander. Without its versions of Simon Cowell, will the series still be able to capture our attention?

Premieres Sept. 21; airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET (rerun Tuesdays) on UPN

"American Idol 5""American Idol" has become the show that all other networks fear. FOX's talent competition steamrolls all programming that dares go up against it, and will most likely continue to do so when the show returns in early 2006. Sitting at the judging table will be the same three faces, including Paula Abdul, who was recently cleared in a FOX investigation of any Corey Clark wrongdoing. Casting is currently under way (audition information is at, and we're sure to see plenty of delusional, awful singers before the next "Idol" emerges to win our hearts and CD dollars.

Premieres January;Tuesdays and Wednesdays, FOX

"The Apprentice: Martha Stewart"Martha Stewart will make her return to television and to our lives in a spin-off version of "The Apprentice." The show will stick to the template of Donald Trump's version (with Stewart's daughter, Alexis, taking the Carolyn role), but won't be stuck to it. Don't expect to see a boardroom, but also don't expect the cast to be crafting greeting cards printed with ink they made of berries they pick after hiking miles through dense forests. The show's tasks will mirror Martha's many talents (no prison jokes, please). And while she will dismiss people one by one, the show is keeping Martha's catchphrase a secret for now. However, she has said that she won't fire people by saying, "You are not a good thing."

The show will be a test in a number of ways: Can Martha actually host? Will viewers be engaged enough by her to do more than just tune in to the first episode? Does "The Apprentice" format work when it's not fronted by Donald Trump himself? Will the camera crews manage to capture Martha but not her ankle bracelet?

Premieres Sept. 21; airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET, NBC

"The Apprentice 4"
NBC's gambling that viewers love "The Apprentice" format so much, they're willing to watch two of them at once. Thus Donald Trump's version will air on Thursdays, with Martha Stewart's version on Wednesdays. This marks the third season of Trump's show that's aired in a calendar year, and decreasing ratings suggest that the series might be suffering from overexposure or just lack of interest. The big change: Donald Trump hand-selected this season's cast, because he said he was unhappy with the third season group. Among those that will compete to work for Trump are the series' first openly gay contestant, a former NFL player, and the former Miss Oregon.

Premieres Sept. 22; airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET, NBC

"The Bachelor 8"Before it had "Dancing with the Stars," "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," ABC had one show to cling to: "The Bachelor." Thus, with other hits on its hands, it's just a little surprising that the network is bringing back its withered dating series for yet another run. The show heads to Paris to see if the City of Light can help to spawn a successful relationship. (Because that worked so well for "Joe Millionaire 2.") Chris Harrison returns to host, and to relentlessly tease undramatic moments with hyperbolic statements ("Coming up: The most amazing bachelorette sneeze ever").

Premieres in January, after football; airs Mondays at 8 p.m., ABC

"The Biggest Loser 2"Last season's surprise hit managed to tackle a significant subject, obesity, without always playing to the lowest common denominator. It was so successful that NBC pushed back its premiere from summer to fall, showing that the network believes in its strength. Like syndicated "Starting Over," "The Biggest Loser" was heavy on motivation and relatively low on cheap tricks, such as tempting the competitors with junk food. For season two, trainers Bob and Jillian will return, as will host Caroline Rhea. But the old house is history, so the new cast will have a new gym and living quarters as they fight to lose weight and win the game.

"The Biggest Loser" is also spinning off a version of single-episode weight-loss competitions between groups of people. NBC says these episodes will be "themed" and could end up "pitting town vs. town, family vs. family, bride vs. bride, co-workers vs. co-workers and more." This new show will have a different host and new trainers, and a premiere date has not yet been announced.

Premieres Sept. 13; airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET, NBC

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"How will Ty make us cry? That's the big question as "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" enters its third season. The series makes "Trading Spaces"' renovations look like kids cutting up paper, as Ty and his team of designers bulldoze or gut the houses of deserving families. The series is nearly single-handedly responsible for causing a swing in reality TV shows from cruel, hoax formats to feel-good, uplifting shows. But with an ever-increasing amount of emotional intensity, can the show continue to top itself, or will we merely choke up — rather than bawl uncontrollably — when a family sees its new house and their 48 new plasma TVs for the first time?

Premieres Sept. 25; airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET ABC

"Supernanny" and "Wife Swap"
FOX's "Nanny 911" and "Trading Spouses" failed to make it to the networks' fall or spring schedules, which is a victory for ABC, the network that airs the original version of each imported series. FOX's knock-offs didn't do well, but both "Supernanny" and "Wife Swap" offer riveting glimpses into domestic life. Nanny Jo Frost uses all of her veddy British powers to try to repair naughty children whose parents don't really know how to parent. Over on "Wife Swap," differences in class are usually highlighted as two parents switch households for a short period of time. The show is actively searching for families right now, offering $20,000 to each participating family, so it looks like it'll be sticking around.

"Supernanny" premieres Sept. 23; airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET, ABC
"Wife Swap" premieres Sept. 12: airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET, ABC

"Survivor Guatemala"Nine seasons and five years later, CBS will kick off its 10th edition of "Survivor." This year, the castaways won't be living on a beach, but instead in Mayan ruins in the heart of Guatemala.

Despite the ancient setting, most of the drama will likely still come as the survivors backstab each other on their way to $1 million. Those 16 cast members are rumored to be joined sometime during the season by two familiar faces, but one face might already be familiar: former NFL star Gary Hogeboom. Along with another castaway who's hiding his identity as an Ivy League college graduate, Hogeboom plans to conceal his past, so it sounds as though deception will be the name of this game, at least at first.

Premieres Sept. 15; airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET, CBS

“Three Wishes”NBC moves into the feel-good reality space with the fall’s only brand-new network reality TV show. On “Three Wishes,” host Amy Grant will, um, grant, uh, three wishes to people, families, and communities. Grant will work with three familiar faces: “Trading Spaces” carpenter Carter Oosterhouse, “Clean Sweep”’s Eric Stromer, and “Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls”’ Diane Mizota.

Together, NBC says, they’ll grant a “broad spectrum of wishes range from paying tribute to an unsung hero to helping a family grappling with a loved one’s life-threatening medical crisis to honoring a high school coach by making her heartfelt wish for her students come true.”

Premieres Sept. 23; airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET, NBC

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news