Pop Culture

Reality TV ’08: If it ain’t broke ...

Once again, the major broadcast network are sticking to a fairly predictable pattern with their fall reality TV offerings, mostly airing new seasons of their popular series.

All of the major network reality series have aired over five seasons, and most are well over 10, with one, "Survivor," rapidly approaching its 20th season.

There are a few new shows, but very few are catching early buzz.

Here's a look at what's coming up this fall on the networks' big six reality TV shows, followed by highlights from both broadcast and cable.

"The Biggest Loser 6: Families"Premieres: Sept. 26, 8 p.m., NBC

What's new? The weight-loss competition will undoubtedly continue to offer incredible transformations in its overweight contestants, who will continue to vote each other out. This season, besides making every episode two hours long, producers and NBC have again cast only pairs of contestants with pre-existing relationships; as the title suggests, they're pairs of family members this season.

Worth watching? The diet-and-exercise-only weight loss is always inspiring, but fast-forward through the product placement and the filler during the unnecessarily long weigh-in ceremony.

"Survivor: Gabon"
Premieres: Sept. 18, 8 p.m., CBS

What's new: The basics stay the same — tribes compete against one another in challenges while braving the elements and each other, with the losing tribe voting off one of their own at Tribal Council — but there will be one significant change. For the first time, the groundbreaking reality competition will be shot in high definition.

And they've certainly picked a visually stunning location for that. "Survivor" will return to Africa, filming in Gabon, a relatively uninhabited country on the western coast of the continent that the show has labeled "Earth's Last Eden." Unlike the barren lands of Kenya, Gabon offers a combination of rainforest-like areas and savanna that's covered with amazing natural amphitheaters that will host challenges and Tribal Council.

The 18 cast members, who I interviewed before the game started, range from an Olympian (Crystal) to an actress (Sugar), a doctor (Marcus) to a high school teacher (Bob). They seemed to belong to one of two groups: people who were there just for fun or to challenge themselves, and those who are cutthroat competitors, and they're also pretty evenly divided between likable people and those with obnoxious personalities. How all of that materializes once the game starts is, of course, yet to be seen.

Worth watching: Absolutely. Even after 16 seasons, "Survivor" continues to deliver unpredictable drama and engaging characters.

However, the show is coming off one of its most compelling seasons ever, "Survivor Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites," which had a record number of blindsides and brilliant strategic moves. In other words, the cast of "Gabon" has a lot to live up to. But if they do not, seeing those cast members, never mind the always-stunning landscapes and animals in high definition, will probably offer enough distraction so we won't notice for a while.

"America's Next Top Model 11"Premieres: Sept. 3, 8 p.m., The CW

What's new? As gossip magazines have already revealed, Isis, one of the 14 competitors, is transgendered. Tyra Banks loves to refer to her wannabe models as her "girls," so for the first time this season, one of those girls will be biologically male. Otherwise, it's modeling as usual.

Worth watching? Maybe. Tyra seems to be focused more on her talk show than her reality show, and "Top Model" has aged rapidly the last few seasons, although some viewers thought it rebounded in season 10.

"Dancing with the Stars 7"
Premieres:
Sept. 22, Mondays at 8 p.m. and Tuesdays at 9 p.m., ABC

While the cast includes its share of reality show has-beens — "Rock Star INXS" host Brooke Burke, "Restaurant" star Rocco DiSprito, and socialite Kim Kardashian — there are some actual talented people you may have heard of on the show this season, including Olympians Misty May-Treanor and Maurice Greene, singer Lance Bass, and actors Cloris Leachman, Susan Lucci, and Ted McGinley.  Also cast: Toni Braxton, Cody Linley, insult comic Ross, and Warren Sapp.

Perhaps more interestingly, there will be new dance pros, including Mark Ballas' father Corky, who will dance with Leachman, and "So You Think You Can Dance 3" finalist Lacey Schwimmer, who will be paired with 'N Sync's Bass. Both have wide fan bases and lots of talent in the dancing department (although Lacey much more than Bass), so look for them to dominate.

Worth watching? The show always manages to be entertaining thanks to the rehearsal footage, the actual dances (whether they're impressive or disastrous), and the judging.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"Premieres: Sept. 28 at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., ABC

What's new? After spending two seasons traveling to all 50 states for extreme home renovations, Ty Pennington and company will continue their mission to enlist communities to help build spectacular new homes packed with Sears-sponsored appliances for deserving families.

Worth watching? If you need a good cry, some feel-good TV, or renovation ideas, absolutely.

"The Amazing Race 13"
Premieres: Sept. 28, CBS, 8 p.m.

What's new: Not much changes season to season on "The Amazing Race," so expect more dysfunctional couples, spectacular vistas, and tension-filled moments as the teams trek around the world.

While the race only lasted 23 days, it did visit places never before featured on the show, such as Cambodia and Bolivia, executive producer Bertram van Munster told Entertainment Weekly.

Worth watching? "The Amazing Race" has long been one of the best-produced reality competitions on television, but as seasons start to blend together, it's getting somewhat old and needs to .

What's new?

HOLE IN THE WALL: The body-bending, mind-twisting, global game show phenomenon HOLE IN THE WALL premieres Thursday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2008 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Patrick Wymore/FOX

Although broadcast networks are offering mostly new seasons of old shows, there will be some new reality programs. After the success of ABC's "Wipeout," Fox will air its Japanese game show import "Hole in the Wall" (Sept. 11, 8 p.m.) opposite "Survivor."  On it, contestants trying to jump through an amusingly shaped hole in a styrofoam wall that threatens to knock them into a pool. The show's been dubbed "Human Tetris," for obvious reasons.

ABC will air a hybrid game show/reality show called "Opportunity Knocks" (Sept. 23, 8 p.m.) that features host J.D. Roth literally knocking on a family's door and then setting up a game show in their front yard. They'll be quizzed about each other and their home as they try to win cash and prizes, such as new appliances.

NBC follows in cable's footsteps with a series from "Deadliest Catch" producer Thom Beers, "America's Toughest Jobs" (NBC, Aug. 25, Mondays at 9 until Sept. 19, then Fridays at 8), a competition between 12 people who attempt jobs like crab fishing. One poorly performing person will be sent home each week.

The CW will also air a show that seems like a carbon-copy of shows from cable T: "Stylista" (Oct. 29, Wednesdays at 9) is a competition for a job at Elle magazine that's produced by Tyra Banks and her "Top Model" producer Ken Mok.

Cable itself offers a . Among them are Animal Planet's "Whale Wars" (fall), which follows conservationists who intercept and try to stop Japanese whaling ships, VH1's horror movie acting competition "Scream Queens" (fall); and MTV's "The Phone" (fall), which begins when two random people answer ringing cell phones hidden in a city and then work to complete tasks.

Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise expands to a new city, Atlanta, this fall (Oct. 7, 10 p.m.) and later returns for another Orange County season, while VH1 will both bring back "Rock of Love" for a third season, and send women from the first two seasons to "Charm School" (fall).

is a writer who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.

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