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The reality of fall TV

An upstart genre shows its influence as reality TV dominates the fall lineup and finds its techniques adopted across the TV landscape.

By Staff writer / September 12, 2011

‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’

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Los Angeles

While there is a respectable freshman class of scripted TV shows debuting this fall, the real drama is coming from reality TV – both new shows and old. The most anticipated, prime-time broadcast network arrival is "The X Factor," a new talent show from Simon Cowell, creator and former curmudgeon-in-residence judge of "American Idol."

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The British talent producer has been quoted as saying he hopes to helm something bigger than his former blockbuster. Over on cable, one of the most successful unscripted programming franchises, Bravo's "Real Housewives," is shadowed by the mid-August suicide of Russell Armstrong, husband of one of the lead cast members of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

As of press time, the network plans to bring the show back on its scheduled Sept. 5 return date. But the season opener, which featured wife Taylor Armstrong buying lingerie and discussing her troubled marriage, will be reedited along with the rest of the season, according to the network.

This narrative plays out against a TV landscape thoroughly infused with reality TV. Some variation of unscripted programs fill nearly a third of the prime-time broadcast hours in this upcoming season, either returning hits such as "Dancing with the Stars" and "The Voice," or the latest iteration of the granddaddy of the genre, "Survivor: South Pacific."

Reality programming has virtually colonized entire swaths of the cable TV landscape, where new shows, such as "The Dead Files," "I Hate My Bath," "Unleashed By Garo," and "Emeril's Table," populate channels devoted nearly entirely to niche knockoffs of subcategories such as weight loss and cooking shows. Reality and unscripted shows have "taken the focus a bit, and rightly so," Robert Greenblatt, incoming NBC chairman and president of programming, told reporters during the semiannual Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills last month. "Shows like 'Biggest Loser,' 'Celebrity Apprentice,' 'The Voice,' 'America's Got Talent,' and 'The Sing-Off' are all really connecting with audiences," he says. "There's a really important place for those shows on our schedule."

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