Thanks to Tyra Banks, the modeling world is becoming a weekly staple of primetime television. Many viewers of “ANTM,” perhaps less able to tell the difference between the delicate simplicity of a Derek Lam garment and the quirky detailing of a Miu Miu, can now quip about the zany schemes of Lisa from season five or the self-aggrandizing spiels of last season’s runner-up Jade.
One reason for the recent popularity of fashion-reality television is simple: It makes something once so distantly glamorous instantly accessible. Those who appreciate fashion don’t need to study the pages of Harper’s Bazaar in a vain attempt to see how the ethereal other half lives when networks like The CW have a crop of modeling hopefuls ready to duke it out for the opportunity to have a career, however fleeting, in the fashion industry. And those who just love a good reality show can relish another chance to tune into a televised portrayal of life behind the scenes.
Whether people are viewing the shows for the catwalk couture, the inevitable drama or to snicker as the judges deliver caustic criticism to the towering pillars of perfection, thousands are tuning in each week.
Now in its eighth season, “ANTM” was the trend’s first wave and continues to be the most recognizable. Although Ms. Banks’s tyrant-of-the-runway monologues have become a bit predictable, the show’s unconventional photo shoots and challenges are still worth watching.
After the fourth season, the show lost the wickedly amusing Janice Dickinson; but complaints were scarce when fashion icon Twiggy took her place on the judges panel. Dickinson’s diva attitude seems to live on in the finger snaps and critical remarks from the androgynous J. Alexander, whose outfits alone – not to mention killer walk – are worthy of praise. Nigel Barker, the hunky yet increasingly bland photographer, rounds up the judge panel with a subdued expertise that’s a perfect tempering to Banks’s look-at-me persona.
Where the models go at it in “ANTM,” “The Agency” pits agents against each other, following the happenings of Wilhelmina International, a high-end men and women’s modeling agency.
The show’s gem is Becky, the British high-end fashion agent, whose abrasiveness is unleashed at the introduction of what she believes to be subpar model recruits. “I’m sick of us signing models with big noses and (expletive) 37-inch hips,” she said about a just-signed blonde hopeful.
What “The Agency” lacks in models whimpering over Mia Farrow-styled haircuts, it makes up for in the smart, raw and often harsh exchanges of those who assume one of the most dubious professions.
Fashioned after the American original, “Australia’s Next Top Model” is a bit more elusive. VH1 has been showing a few obscure episodes, but the spin-off doesn’t have a network home yet in the United States.
“AuNTM” sticks to the formula of sifting out weak contestants each week by putting them through awkwardly challenging photo shoots. The first season saw the models mounting horses in evening gowns and pumps while competing with gusts of wind and the gripes of an exasperated photographer.
One considerable difference between the American and Australian versions: the current season of AuNTM opened the contest to girls under 18.
“Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency”
Dickinson left “ANTM” and started her own show, perhaps because she couldn’t play second fiddle to the domineering Banks. It’s an entertaining glimpse into the opening of her agency, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency in West Hollywood. Dickinson’s handling of recruits provides the audience with more reasons to abhor her ruthless criticism while still admiring her refreshing honesty.
In the show’s second season, Dickinson is still as vicious and erratic as ever. Still, you have to give her credit – she’s in her 50s and still a formidable (if at times laughable) presence in an industry that disposes of its prey at the first inkling of a laugh line. And with the success of the show, it doesn’t seem like the self-proclaimed “world’s first supermodel” is going anywhere anytime soon.