Its chaos, cringe factor and supposed authenticity made reality TV part of the collective identity of television audiences all over the world when it started out in the 1990s.
The genre treading fine lines between scripted and unscripted TV, fandom and voyeurism as well as sincere emotion and gaudiness had its heyday in the 2000s and 2010s, but, as Statista’s Katharina Buchholz details below, since then has lost some of its allure, at least when looking at the viewership of the top 50 broadcast TV series and shows that attract millions to U.S. TV screens each week.
In the 2009-10 season ending in May, around a third of average weekly top 50 viewership was still taken up by reality TV shows like American Idol, Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover and Hell’s Kitchen, among others. The fast ascend of the genre has partially been credited to the lower production value many shows had opposite scripted dramas. Almost one and a half decades later, only the first two of these programs have remained in the top 50 of America’s most viewed TV shows. They can however be found much further down the ranking together with two newer singing shows, The Voice and The Masked Singer.
All in all, reality TV viewership among top 50 shows only made up around 12 percent of aggregate average weekly viewership in the last annual TV season, which ended May 2023.
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While American Idol’s twice weekly screenings together with Dancing With The Stars were the three most viewed U.S. TV shows in 2009-10 and 2010-11, The Voice’s two installments were only the 19th and 20th most viewed programs in 2022-23.
All star reprises to popular shows have found their way into the top 50 TV shows in recent years as part of the America’s Got Talent franchise and could boost reality TV viewership a little, but generally, reality TV is playing less of a role today. Another reason for this is that many newer reality formats, like celebrity-based shows, have flourished on cable TV or even streaming. One example of this is the Kardashian reality franchise, which ran for 20 seasons on E! and starts its fourth season under new name, The Kardashians, on Hulu today. Broadcast channels meanwhile have capture their bigger audiences with talent and other contestant-based shows.