Some, as in the case of "ANTM's" contestants, are born physically blessed. Others, as in the case of the original "Extreme Makeover's" contestants, are well, not. Hence the 2002 ABC series in which average Joes and Janes volunteered to undergo extensive makeovers often involving plastic surgery, exercise regimens and a new wardrobe. While audiences gobbled up the series the year it premiered -- an average 11.2 million people tuned in for each episode --"Extreme Makeover's" fan base dropped following criticism of the show's encouraging of superficial values and a 2005 controversy in which the sister of a former contestant committed suicide after she was dropped from the show.
Though the original "Extreme Makeover" was taken off the air in 2007, the franchise was already expanding thanks to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," in which host Ty Pennington and a team of helpers build a new home for families hit by a natural disaster, debilitating illness or other hardship. With both do-it-yourself and feel-good appeal, the show remains one of ABC's most popular reality series.
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.