Martha and Paris TV flops signal end of reality shows

A few weeks into the all-important autumn season, a new pattern seems to emerging where old-style dramas, including a new series on ABC television about the first woman in the Oval Office, called Commander-in-Chief starring Geena Davis, are displacing the reality programmes in the race for ratings.

"The decline of reality is official now," Warren Littlefield, the former president of NBC Entertainment tells Broadcasting and Cable magazine in tomorrow's issue. "The genre, which took so many dollars and time periods out of the marketplace, is just not as much of a dominant force any more. For people who play in the world of scripted TV, it's a very welcome sign."

Victims of the change may include Paris Hilton, the socialite heiress and television starlet, who last week found herself left high and dry by the Fox Network when it said it was dropping the reality show The Simple Life. In the show Hilton and erstwhile best friend Nicole Richie are introduced to the lives of people who are neither millionaires nor celebrities, and are obliged to muck in with them for a while.

Once a red-hot property for Fox, The Simple Life began to lose momentum during its third series in the spring. An apologetic network said it was shopping the programme to other networks. So far, however, no one has bought it, and the TV careers of Hilton and Richie may be on hold.

Over at NBC, meanwhile, executives are distressed that the soufflé-like success of its The Apprentice franchise is suddenly collapsing. The original version, featuring Donald Trump and his competing teams of would-be tycoons, is sliding quickly in the ratings. Much worse, however, has been the performance of the show's spin-off, starring Martha Stewart, the home-making diva only recently released from a five-month prison stint for breaking stock-trading rules.

After just four episodes, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart is the worst-performing programme on the NBC prime-time schedule. A second series, once considered a certainty, is now most unlikely.

But the non-celebrity reality format is lagging also. New industry figures released this weekend show that Survivor on CBS - once considered the touchstone of success in the genre - has seen a near collapse of viewing numbers in the all-important 18-49 age group. The programme is down 19 per cent in the first three weeks of the season.

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