When a contestant's makeover comes courtesy of their taking control of their eating and exercise habits, thus shedding dozens of pounds on national TV, that show becomes a hit. So goes the formula for NBC's "The Biggest Loser," which since 2004 has been chronicling the quest of overweight contenders to drop lbs. and win $250,000. Pushed along by professional trainers and nutrition experts, some contestants have lost as much as 140 pounds while on the show. Along with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "The Biggest Loser" pioneered the realm of reality TV for good -- series that spotlight the best qualities in people and hope to bring them out in the audience.
Another example of how the human spirit can triumph over all: "The Amazing Race," CBS' chronicling of two-person teams as they jet around the world trying to win physical challenges and pocket prizes along the way, all leading up to a $1 million grand prize for the team that arrives before all the rest in the final leg of the journey. Since the teams of two consist of people who entered the competition together and already have a functional relationship, there's little chance for the cattiness and backstabbing that dominates much of the reality competition genre to materialize. It's feel-good all the way on "The Amazing Race," which is part of the reason why the show's won eight Emmy awards since 2001.
There's reality TV for good, and then there's reality TV for the sake of reality TV. That's what brought "The Hills" to life, the MTV show that spun off from "Laguna Beach: The Real OC" when series star Lauren Conrad graduated high school and took to the Hollywood Hills to do all those things a 20-something-year-old girl does when she attempts to "find herself." "The Hills" differentiated itself from the bulk of reality series with its stunning cinematography, featuring panoramic shots of Los Angeles that were visually sumptuous even without the adornment of the flaxen-haired, slim-bodied Conrad and her bevy of beautiful friends.
"The Hills" also spearheaded the convergence of reality and scripted series when multiple media outlets discovered the show re-shot certain scenes to achieve appropriate levels of drama and intrigue. But anyone who's seen the show will likely agree that there's only so much eyelash batting one can watch before putting a script in a reality TV star's hand seems like a better alternative than watching them launch into yet another vacant gaze.
Yes, the kids were cute. Yes, it was a window into a rare household. Yes, it was an exploration of the highs and lows of parenting. But the real reason "Jon & Kate Plus 8" made this list is because it showed just what a wreck reality TV can be. Neither "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" nor "The Swan" nor any other reality series this decade can compare to the disaster that TLC's franchise became when Jon and Kate Gosselin decided to part ways. Now, the show's off the air, the family's in shambles, and TLC is suing Jon Gosselin for breach of contract. Let "Jon & Kate Plus 8" be a lesson to the millennium's future reality series, as clearly this realm's not going away: even the most popular of them all sometimes take a fall.