Reality competition — a category which now includes everything from classic game shows like “Jeopardy” to exotic ventures like “The Amazing Race” — is among the fastest-growing television genres of all time. And with so many new shows popping up recently, there are some shows that succeed and many more that are utter shit.
One thing that can’t be underestimated (though it so often is), is the importance the choice of host has in making or breaking a show’s critical acclaim.
Last year the Emmys — the award show everyone has yet to care about — created a new category. It’s one that should have been around since the Emmys first recognized reality TV as a respectable genre: Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program.
First of all, does anyone else think it’s funny that the Emmys isn’t even qualified to give awards with “Best” in their names, instead settling for the word “Outstanding?” Anyway, harping on the Emmys aside, the awards show actually did a good job on this one. The new category is one of the best ideas the Emmys has had in a good long while.
Now, normally I’d be opposed to anybody creating the possibility for Ryan Seacrest or Howie Mandel to win an award. I’d wince if I saw them holding even a Little League “Most Improved Player” trophy, let alone an Emmy. Luckily, the 2008 award went to Jeff Probst, the deserving long-time host of “Survivor” and subject of one of my middle school Halloween costumes.
But this award’s purpose isn’t just to give Seacrest a good dose of rejection. It’s to point out how crucial it is for a show to have a good host if it wants to succeed.
If you need an example, then come on down. You’re the next contestant on “The Price is Right.” The classic game show lost a large chunk of its viewership in the transition from Bob Barker to Drew Carey — and for good reason. Barker had a hosting knack that Carey still hasn’t seemed to pick up. Another prime example is “The Weakest Link,” which was popular not because of the game itself but just because of the acerbic, bitter wit of host Anne Robinson.
But in the same way that a great host can invigorate an otherwise plain program, a terrible host can ruin even the best ideas. Now, I’m sure you all have your own opinion, but I’m going to go ahead and crown my own choices for king and queen of terrible reality competition hosts.
For king, I choose Chuck Woolery, specifically for his work on “Lingo.” The game show is a smart little mix between a spelling contest, Mastermind and Bingo. Unfortunately, Woolery can’t spell, he’s certainly not a mastermind and he probably doesn’t even fully understand how Bingo works.
For queen, I’m picking a host from a show you hopefully never forced yourself to watch (but I did). “On the Lot” was a reality competition run by Steven Spielberg to find the next big Hollywood director. The show was hosted by the brain-meltingly irritating Adrianna Costa. Every time one of the contestants’ short films contained an explosion or a fight scene, you couldn’t help but wish she’d get caught in the crossfire. Her inability to say anything insightful is yet more proof that sleeping your way to the top still works.
But the formula of “quality of host equals quality of ratings” doesn’t always hold up. There have been several anomalies in reality TV — shows with good ideas and good hosts that still, for whatever reason, don’t succeed. That’s why this new Emmy category can be such a good thing, if used correctly.
If only we’d had this category in 2002, for instance, then maybe “The Mole” would never have been canceled, only to return last year with a much worse host and a lower production value.
So who was this mysterious host who could’ve, if officially recognized for his awesomeness, saved “The Mole” from premature cancellation? None other than CNN’s resident heartthrob, Anderson Cooper. That’s right. One of hard-hitting journalist Cooper’s first assignments was hosting a gimmicky (though absolutely amazing and completely under-appreciated) reality competition show.
In fact, there are several current reality TV hosts who were, in my opinion, snubbed. The foremost in my mind is Cat Deeley of “So You Think You Can Dance,” which has the unfortunate stigma of often being confused with the much worse “Dancing with the Stars.” Not only is Deeley easier on the eyes than all the non-Heidi Klum nominees from last year’s Emmys, but she brings a lot of energy to the show and keeps it moving with a refreshing enthusiasm.
If reality competitions are going to continue to thrive — which I, unlike many others I’m sure, think they should — then their creators need to realize the importance of a good host. You wouldn’t want to see Ryan Seacrest hosting “Survivor” or Jeff Probst hosting “American Idol” (or Adrianna Costa hosting anything). Also, the Emmys need to look past the big-name shows to see the Anderson Coopers and Cat Deeleys hidden among the Seacrests and Probsts.
And finally, though most importantly, someone needs to fire Chuck Woolery.