TV in the 2000s: My Top Reality Shows For the Decade

Reality TV was kicking into high gear in the early part of the decade, and in 2002 Fox’s “American Idol” changed many things about how we watch TV, how we view the music industry, and how we view Paula Abdul. These are all shows that I blog about, so suffice to say that while I have become somewhat knowledgeable about each show, I do enjoy watching them, and enjoy them immensely. Here is how I rank them…..

“American Idol” (Fox)—It’s hard to argue with ratings and how this show has become the #1 show, maybe of all-time. And while we have taken issue with the judges, the producers and oftentimes, the talent, the fact remains that the concept of “American Idol” is awesome –to let viewers determine who they want to be a pop star. And it’s likely exceeded the expectations of producers and industry execs, particularly with the careers of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. In fact, without Idol, what would those two be doing right now?

“The Biggest Loser” (NBC)—It’s hard to believe no one thought of a show like this long before reality TV came to be. And what could be more inspiring to Americans than to prove that those of us getting fat while watching reality TV and eating bad food and not exercising, that we can actually lose weight, and a lot of it, if we put the effort in. But seeing how the show transforms the lives of its contestants is must-see TV, and can be downright heartwarming. Sometimes, however, the producers let gameplay take over, which can cloud the purpose of the show. But still, the show is already in its 8th season and shows no signs of slowing down.

“Top Chef” (Bravo)—Admittedly, I only started watching this one in Season 5, but became hooked faster than I’ve been hooked by any reality show. It’s so well done, and has made me notice things in the production, like lighting and music and continuity, that I’ve never noticed in shows like this before. Then there is the competition itself, and it’s a show that pits, well, top chefs, against each other—chefs that know fine dining but have to stay on the cutting edge of cuisines and techniques for survival on the show.

“Hell’s Kitchen” (Fox)—The boisterous Gordon Ramsay became a fixture in our living rooms a few yeas back, and “Hell’s Kitchen” was an awesome concept for the first two or three seasons. After that, it began to lose some of its appeal—mostly because they have stuck to the same format again and again without much variation. Still a great show, but after six seasons, they need to take a break or change things up.

“The Next Food Network Star” (Food Network)—This show gained all of its credibility after the fact, once Season 2 champ Guy Fieri became a rock star almost overnight. But in the three seasons since, it’s failed to produce anyone like Guy, and maybe never will again. Plus, you can’t keep crowning a champ, and then give them 5-6 shows before letting them fade into oblivion. At least in my book, that hurts this show’s credibility.

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Top Chef Las Vegas: Ben Folds can’t cook shrimp

Last night’s “Top Chef Las Vegas” on Bravo returned after a two-week absence, and admittedly I needed those “previously on…” highlights to catch up myself. Oh yeah, Ron was sent home last time….thankfully, because I couldn’t understand much of what that guy was saying.

Anyway, this episode began with The Food Network’s Tyler Florence as a guest judge, but I don’t think they mentioned Food Network by name. A bit petty, no? Or maybe a legality. Anyway, the quick fire challenge was in the vein of cookstr.com, where each contestant had to use three background descriptions to create a meal in 30 minutes. They used a slot machine to choose mood, flavor profile and type of cuisine–for example, romantic/salty/Asian. Florence would be the judge of each dish. Note: one of the flavor profiles was umami, a newer description to the palate world that I don’t fully comprehend, but it’s definitely a buzzword in the cooking industry–I think it means like tangy or something.

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The Next Food Network Star: do you believe in karma?

For those of us pissed off that the judges of “The Next Food Network Star” kept giving Debbie Lee pass after pass this season, despite the fact that she was dishonest and deceitful while acting all jolly and Korean, karma reared its head in our favor. More on that in a minute, but last night’s showdown between the final three of Lee, Melissa D’Arabian and Jeffrey Saad was actually very exciting to watch.

They began the episode by having the three finalists meet Emeril Lagasse at his restaurant, and Emeril announced their challenge for the week–in honor of the upcoming film, “Julie & Julia,” the contestants would have to create their own ultimate 3-course meal for some very distinguished judges. Each would have $1000 to shop as well as the help of a sous chef. After shopping (and Jeffrey being way under budget), they arrived back to find out who their sous chefs would be….naturally, former contestants….Jamika, Michael and Katie, who would be paired with Melissa, Debbie and Katie, respectively.

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The Next Food Network Star: they should have kicked off two

Last night on episode 3 of “The Next Food Network Star” Season 5, the theme was entertaining on a budget, and in my humble opinion, one contestant was lucky that the judges didn’t issue a double elimination when they had every reason to. But more on that shortly. The show began with all 8 remaining chefs meeting up with Food Network star Tyler Florence at Stew Leonard’s grocery store, which looked sort of like a Whole Foods. The first part of their challenge was to pick out ingredients to serve a dinner party of 12, but with only $60 to spend. In addition, they each had to offer a budget-conscious tip on camera for Florence, who would judge them and declare a winner, with that person to have an advantage in the main challenge.

Jeffrey won the challenge with a brief but very effective tip on how to use Nutella to make crepes for both dessert and breakfast with his family. Melissa and Debbie also did a nice job with their tips. Teddy (who Florence referred to as a cartoon character of himself), Jamika (who advised to re-use marinade) and Michael (just a complete mess) all bombed in the budget tip portion of the challenge.

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The Next Food Network Star new season debuts Sunday June 7

Yes, it’s really been a year since Aaron McCargo, Jr. won Season 4 of “The Next Food Network Star,” one of the network’s most popular and talked about shows. Since then, McCargo has his own show, and Season 2 champ Guy Fieri is about as ubiquitous on TV as Peyton Manning or Oprah. So, you see, The Food Network takes this show very seriously, and well they should. Not only is it vital for them to keep finding new talent, but we are able to enjoy the process as ten finalists battle it out with tough challenges and nerve wracking on-camera experiences.

Season 5, which kicks off this Sunday June 7 at 9:00 pm ET/PT and 8:00 pm CST, features finalists Brett August (Washington Heights, N.Y.), Katie Cavuto (Philadelphia, Pa.), Melissa d’Arabian (Keller, Texas), Teddy Folkman (Alexandria, Va.), Eddie Gilbert (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), Jen Isham (Orlando, Fla.), Debbie Lee (West Hollywood, Calif.), Jamika Pessoa (Atlanta, Ga.), Michael Proietti (New York, N.Y.) and Jeffrey Saad (Los Angeles, Calif.).

The challenges promise to be even tougher this time around according to a press release, and we had the chance to ask judge and long-time network personality, restauranteur and Iron Chef Bobby Flay how he felt about the challenges.

“I do think sometimes the challenges are hard, but that’s what this is about,” he said. “If everyone was perfect in every challenge, there would be nothing to watch. You want to see how they do under pressure and how they handle it.”

In addition, since Flay is the lone chef on the judging panel along with Food Network execs Bob Tuschman (Senior Vice President, Programming and Production) and Susie Fogelson (Vice President, Marketing and Brand Strategy); he admits that he is looking more for that special culinary talent first and foremost, while the other two may have different priorities.

“Since I’m the chef on the panel, I’m always protecting the food,” he said. “It’s three things–they need to be able to cook with authority, they need to be able to be a good teacher and inspire, and then if they have those two things they need to be entertaining. All three of those things are the recipe for success.”

In addition to Flay, there are several network personalities that will help with the challenges and with guidance to the ten finalists. Those include Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, Alton Brown, Guy Fieri, Ina Garten, Emeril Lagasse, Gina and Pat Neely, Masaharu Morimoto, Ted Allen, Tyler Florence, Michael Symon McCargo, Jr.

We’ll be blogging the entire season right here starting this Monday, so tune in and then read us right here and let us know what you think!

  

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