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Reality shows stick to the old and familiar

After giving viewers a summer full of new reality shows, the broadcast networks are retreating to their comfort zones this fall.  Some of the summer's new shows flopped on their poorly conceived faces, including ABC’s “The One,” ABC’s “One Ocean View,” and ABC’s “How to Get the Guy.” (Noticing a pattern here?) Others became smash hits, such as NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,�
/ Source: contributor

After giving viewers a summer full of new reality shows, the broadcast networks are retreating to their comfort zones this fall.  Some of the summer's new shows flopped on their poorly conceived faces, including ABC’s “The One,” ABC’s “One Ocean View,” and ABC’s “How to Get the Guy.” (Noticing a pattern here?) Others became smash hits, such as NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” or stayed strong in their second seasons, as did both of FOX’s summertime offerings, “Hell’s Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”

As summer drifts away, many of the biggest changes coming to reality shows are simple timeslot switches. CBS's “The Amazing Race” is returning for a 10th season, and after moving timeslots twice last season, will now air on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET, opposite ABC’s solid “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Racers this year include the first Indian-American team, the first Islamic team, and a racer with an artificial leg. This year, the race will head to places it’s never been before, just as Ty Pennington and crew will travel around in search of new families to help with their Craftsmen tools.

“Survivor” (Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET) also will go to a place it’s never been before for its 13th season. And it’s about time, considering that the show’s last season was taped in Panama, the third time the series has been filmed on the exact same set of islands. The veteran reality show shot this year in the Cook Islands, in a lagoon that looks absolutely stunning in pictures. As host Jeff Probst told viewers at the end of last season, the show’s most recent twist, exile island, will return.  But this biggest twist, dividing the contestants into a white tribe, an African-American tribe, an Asian tribe, and a Hispanic tribe, is already drawing fire from some people, especially those who've never watched the show. Whether happens with the twist, for the first time in a long time, the whole country is talking about "Survivor."

“The Bachelor” (ABC, Mondays at 9 p.m. ET) is the reality show that just won’t die, despite declining ratings and what seems like declining interest. Host Chris Harrison will return to show viewers the genesis of yet another manufactured relationship that’s destined to collapse.  For the ninth season, the series will be set in Rome, where the women will fight one another for the attention of Prince Lorenzo Borghese, who owns a cosmetics company that creates products for pets. No, really.

There are no pet cosmetic company-owning princes competing on “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET), but the show has dug up a whole bunch of fun D-list celebrities to dance their way to victory, including Jerry Springer, Emmitt Smith, Vivica A. Fox, Mario “AC Slater” Lopez, Joey Lawrence, MSNBC's own Tucker Carlson, and others. Joining them all will be Harry Hamlin, who just happens to be the husband of former contestant Lisa Rinna, the show’s new co-host. Having succeeded in the summer (its debut season) and spring (its second season), “Dancing with the Stars” will now try its hand — um, feet — at the fall.

Other C-list celebrities are embarrassing themselves on a new show from Simon Cowell. The already-launched “Celebrity Duets” (FOX, Thursdays and Fridays at 9 p.m. ET) follows stars such as Chris Jericho, Lucy Lawless, Jai Rodriguez and Lea Thompson as they perform duets with actual talented singers. The real singers won’t stick around for the whole season, but will perform once with the contestants, who will be eliminated based upon audience votes. The singers include Michael Bolton, Macy Gray, Wynonna Judd, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Kenny Loggins, Smokey Robinson, and Dionne Warwick.

“Celebrity Duets” has quite a big cast, but it’s “The Biggest Loser” that will get a lot larger for its third season (NBC, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET). In total, the new cast weighs 14,384 pounds. If that sounds ridiculously huge, it is, but not because the cast of 14 weighs more than 1,000 pounds each. Instead, the show is expanding its cast: One person from each state will compete. That 50-person cast may be the largest reality TV has ever seen, but it will be cut down quickly: 36 people will leave the ranch early on, but they will continue to compete and lose weight at home, working with the show’s physicians to continue their weight loss. The two who have the greatest percentage of weight loss will rejoin those left at the ranch at some point during the competition. There is one more big change for “The Biggest Loser”: trainer Jillian Michaels is no longer with the show. She’s been replaced by Kym Lyons.

There have been personnel-related issues on another popular reality show, but these have to do with behind-the-scenes talent.  “America’s Next Top Model” (The CW, Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET) will be the very first show to air on The CW, a brand-new network formed from the merger of UPN and The WB. However, the show’s story writers — the people who craft and arrange narratives from the hundreds of hours of footage shot during the competition — were on strike at press time, seeking union representation and benefits. While the network says the show is on track to debut in September, the union supporting the writers says only four episodes had been completed at the time of the walk-out.

Spouses who want to walk out of their homes (temporarily) will get even more chances as ABC brings “Wife Swap” back (Mondays at 8 p.m. ET) and FOX returns its copycat version “Trading Spouses” (Fridays at 9 p.m. ET) to the fall schedule. And those families with problem children will get help on “Nanny 911” (FOX, Fridays at 8 p.m. ET).

If those shows don’t offer enough dysfunctional family fun, cable networks will come to the rescue. The Carters — Backstreet Boy Nick and his family — will star in “House of Carters” (E!, October), showing us just what their lives are like. And “Committed: The Christies” (BET, October) will follow NBA star Doug Christie and his wife Jackie, whose “relationship is one that will keep viewers mystified, entertained and in awe,” according to BET.

Also on cable, the third season of “Laguna Beach” already has debuted on MTV. It features an entirely brand-new, telegenic cast of rich high schoolers who comprise at least two different cliques.  Despite the fact that the cast is all new, it feels oh-so-familiar, just like the rest of fall’s reality TV offerings, firmly establishing this set of reality shows as our national comfort foods.

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