by Robert Romano
Since the start of the new millennium, primetime television has become oversaturated by song or dance reality shows such as: Dancing With the Stars, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Dance Moms, America’s Best Dance Crew and Toddlers and Tiaras. Despite its past success, performance-based reality television is declining due to its overuse, and losing viewership to scripted programs that still include theater and performance.
According to hollywoodreporter.com, the latest season finale of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars’ viewership was down 30 percent from 2011 in the ages 18-49 demographic.
Moreover, American Idol, a show that once dominated television ratings, has seen a strong decline in its viewership in recent years. For the first time since 2003, the show had fewer than 20 million viewers in its season finale, according tonytimes.com.
In fact, the developing distaste for performance-based reality television has paved the way for scripted shows involving theater. For example, NBC’s Smash has received moderate success, and the upcoming release of ABC Family’s latest dance-based drama, Bunheads, demonstrates how theater is slowly creeping into television’s mainstream.
Also, the ever-increasing price of Broadway tickets is contributing to the movement of theater from the stage to television. According to broadwayworld.com, the average price for a seat at a Broadway theater production has increased from $47.96 in 1997 to $89.09 in 2011, indicating how attending theater productions has become more expensive in recent years.
Television’s move toward scripted programs involving theater demonstrates people’s desire for the drama of the stage, the performance aspect involved with song-and-dance competition shows and an escape from reality.
The decline of the performance-based reality show demonstrates how television is reinventing itself. The programs that once dominated the water-cooler conversations of the past decade might just be substituted for something completely innovative: talk of an entertainment industry dominated by theater. As the reality show trend comes to a close, one could only wonder how long theater will be present on television.