Magazine article Variety

Emmy's Reality Series Ask the Tough Questions

Magazine article Variety

Emmy's Reality Series Ask the Tough Questions

Article excerpt

WITH AN EVER-EXPANDING spate of reality shows on TV, it shouldn't come as much surprise that there's been a gradual shift away from light and fluffy unstructured programs to series with distinct and often socially relevant perspectives. This year's nominees for the unstructured reality program Emmy reflect that change.

A&E's "Born This Way" follows the lives of seven young adults with Down syndrome; Discovery's "Deadliest Catch" depicts the dangerous working conditions faced by Alaskan crab fishermen; Viceland's "Gaycation With Ellen Page" explores the lives of LGBTQ people in various cultures around the world; A&E's "Intervention" shows real-life addicts being confronted by their families and friends in attempts to save their lives; HBO's "Project Greenlight" tracks the ups and downs of a firsttime director taking a film through the entire production process; and CNN's "United Shades of America With W. Kamau Bell" investigates different subcultures across the nation.

There's something else unique this year: Mutual respect among fellow nominees.

"I love that there are so many shows that are trying to be something or say something," says Spike Jonze, co-president, Viceland. "I was very encouraged when I saw the list of nominees. The people we're up against are all shows that are trying to explore something meaningful."

That is echoed by Jon Murray. "'Gaycation' was a surprise [nomination], but I was like, 'Wow! That's in there!' If you look at what they're doing, it's really interesting," says Murray, founder and executive consultant of Bunim/ Murray Prods., which produces "Born This Way." "And there's 'Intervention,' obviously that's been around a long time, but it really broke a lot of ground. Even 'Project Greenlight' - if you watched that this year - there was a big issue of race in that show, with the producer of the film fighting with the director over a lot of race questions."

While the TV Academy has expanded reality categories, in previous years, issue-driven series were often nominated against lighter fare.

"There are a number of different types of shows that fit into the reality category, but 'Intervention' is a documentary series, through-and-through, and wouldn't necessarily want to be lumped in with reality shows," says Tom Greenhut, "Intervention" executive producer and showrunner. It even competed against what Greenhut calls a "hilarious, soft-scripted comedy," "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List." "To put that up against the likes of 'Intervention' is apples and oranges for sure," he says.

This year the shows are much better matched.

'The first job of a reality show is to be entertaining, but when there's something truly real about that show I think it helps raise the stakes of the drama," says Murray, also a co-creator of MTV's long-running "The Real World."

"Whether it was 'Real World' or 'Born This Way,' we were on a bit of a mission," Murray says. "In some ways we had an agenda. We wanted to bring these people into viewers' homes, but we wanted to do it in an entertaining way."

Early on, he says MTV's audience was receptive to seeing people of diverse races, beliefs, and lifestyles interacting on camera.

"And that younger generation, those millennials, are the most open, the most tolerant. They don't look at race, they don't label people the way the older generation does. And I think that's partly because of the power of not only 'The Real World' but some other shows, too," Murray says.

Jonze says Page is accomplishing something similar in "Gaycation," a show she pitched to him shortly after he asked if she had any ideas for the new network. …

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