Lowbrow Highlights: Analyzing Bravo’s Next Wave of Reality Shows

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The Bravo network was launched in 1980 and touted as “the first television service dedicated to film and the performing arts.” The vision was “plays are great; people love plays — let’s put those on a TV network and people will love that.” At the time (according to Wikipedia), Bravo was a pay network that didn’t even air programming seven days a week and had a digital timeshare with a network called Escapade that featured the type of content you would expect a network called Escapade to feature. You know, boobs.

Fast-forward 35 years and the once high-minded Bravo no longer has cameras pointed at the performing arts of the stage, unless, of course, the stage has poles. Bravo has morphed into something a little less PBS-y and a little more Escapade-y. Once GE got its fat fingers on the network around the turn of the century, the suits decided to give the network a makeover — a makeover makeover. Shortly after that, the entire world was bowing down and praying to the style deities of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. God, that show was so fucking good. Queer Eye begat Project RunwayProject Runway begat Top Chef, Top Chef begat Real Housewives of Orange County, which begat eeerrrrrrrrrrrythang on TV henceforth. Now Bravo finds itself at an interesting pivot point. The Housewives franchises are all going strong but, like their cast members, have already tried to rearrange themselves to avoid aging and are starting to look a mess.

Former Bravo executive Andy “The Gawd” Cohen has left his perch in the boardroom to assume his spot in the playhouse, so what does Bravo do to add a little life to the programming slate? It doubles down. This week, Bravo announced 10 new shows, each as “I can’t tell if this is the best or worst idea I have ever heard” as the next. So, naturally, we here at Lowbrow Highlights headquarters decided to dedicate the column to examining what the “performing arts” channel has in store for us in 2015. But before we do that, let’s round up the week in reality TV:

Everyone was cool on Real Housewives of Atlanta ’cause NeNe wasn’t there, Southern Charm was all right, Shahs of Sunset I fell asleep halfway through, and Married at First Sight is my favorite new show not named Dating Naked. Got it? Cool, let’s break down the Bravo fresh meat, power-ranking them from “I will definitely watch each episode — twice” to “I can’t believe I am even wasting my time writing about this garbage.” To perform this daunting task, I requested the help of my pod partner Juliet Litman, who watches almost as much Bravo as I do. Let’s do it:

1. Below Deck Mediterranean

Quick Summary: Just like Below Deck but with Europeans.

Glass Half Full: Below Deck has quietly put together two really strong seasons and, unlike most Bravo shows, its success is more format-based than cast-based. It has shaken up the cast every year and never missed a beat, because this show can draw on the story lines between the permanent cast and the new charters who come aboard every episode. Below Deck is basically reality TV’s Law & Order but hotter, and drunker, and dumber, and on a boat.

Glass Half Empty: There is no way this will fail. This glass is as full as charter guest Dean’s was when he told the staff that when he asks for an espresso, he ALWAYS means an espresso martini with two ounces of booze.

Juliet’s Big Question: “Should I be hoping that Captain Lee, Kat, and Ben the Chef are back?” No, you should be hoping that only Chef Ben is back, if for no other reason than to see what his hair looks like:

ChefBenBravo I Will Watch … every episode twice.

2. Après Ski (working title)

Quick Summary: The members of a “luxurious concierge company” provide “once-in-a-lifetime vacations for their upscale and demanding clients.” Basically, Canadian Below Deck.

Glass Half Full: We have tapped into every clichéd wealthy enclave in the States. Why has it taken so long for us to get a peek into that log-cabin, hot-tub-in-the-snow, weed-on-the-slopes, British Columbia lifestyle? This will have the upstairs/downstairs drama and Law & Order–style franchise potential that Below Deck has, but take us somewhere else we could never afford to go? What is not to like? With the right casting, this can be a hit.

Glass Half Empty: There is something about having nothing to do all day besides drink in the sun that makes the charters on Below Deck so slammered and crazy, and I fear that will be missing when you give the upscale clients an all-day activity like skiing. Who needs equipment, nature, and workouts in your vacation plan when you could just booze all day and make a fool of yourself? I worry that the focus will be on skiing rather than arguing, drinking, and coitusing. Arguing, drinking, and coitusing should be the focus of all reality TV, if not lives.

Juliet’s Big Question: “Is this the skiing version of Below Deck?” Yes.1

I Will Watch … the first three and then bail on it if no one gets naked.

3. Tour Group (working title)

Quick Summary: This one has a pretty vague summary. It is basically, “A bunch of people travel to a bunch of places and stuff happens.”

Glass Half Full: If this is cast right, it could be Road Rules meets National Lampoon’s Vacation meets Road Trip meets On the Road. The ceiling for this is limitless.

Glass Half Empty: For a show like this to work, I need to absolutely fall in love with the group of people traveling. I don’t watch reality TV to see the world. I can get that anywhere. I watch reality TV for the interplay between the human beings on the screen, and if they don’t NAIL the casting of this, the season pass will be deleted after Episode 1.

Juliet’s Big Question: “Will this be more Amazing Race or Road Rules, and which would be better?” I don’t think that this will closely resemble either. My prediction is that this will be like one of those Housewives episodes where one of the women “organizes” a trip for everyone on the show even though it is clearly the production who organized the trip, except they never go home.

I Will Watch  this when someone I know has told me it was pretty good.

4. My Fab 40th

Quick Summary: Remember that MTV show My Super Sweet 16? That, but 24 years older.

Glass Half Full: Let’s just admit it: Watching people extravagantly spend on insane shit is entertaining. Also entertaining: watching people freak out because the fire marshal won’t let you ride up and down the street and into your driveway on an elephant that has been painted like a zebra. You are guaranteed to get both on this show. And if you don’t like one episode? There is always the next one, which will be completely different.

Glass Half Empty: There is a reason that 40-year-olds are deemed “over the hill.” As someone approaching that number myself, I can attest that we aren’t the turntest lot.

Juliet’s Big Question: “Who will be the first ‘celebrity’ to appear or perform at one of these parties?” Soulja Boy. Can you buy that “Right Reasons” song from The Bachelorette on iTunes?

I Will Watch … this even though I don’t like it. I know now, before seeing a single frame, that I won’t enjoy this show but I will watch every one. I hate myself.

5. Ladies of Dallas (working title)

Quick Summary: Rich women in Dallas do rich-women-in-Dallas shit.

Glass Half Full: Look, it worked for New York, New Jersey, London, Orange County, Atlanta, Miami, and Melbourne. Why not Dallas?

Glass Half Empty: Wait wait wait, Bravo. You are not tricking me here. First you had Most Eligible Dallas, then you had Courtney Loves Dallas, and now you are going with Ladies of Dallas? After canceling the last two Dallas shows after only one season, my hopes are not high for the third go-round.

Juliet’s Big Question: “How many times will the word ‘debutante’ be uttered on the pilot episode?” Forty-five if it is a half-hour, 147 if it is an hour, and 23,986 if it is two hours.

I Will Watch … this once to see if there is someone hot enough, crazy enough, or hot/crazy enough for me to stick around for. They better not pretend to be friends already when they all meet each other on the show. I hate when they do that.

6. Fit Club (working title)

Quick Summary: Trainers in New York sleep with each other and complain about their clients.

Glass Half Full: It will have that upstairs/downstairs vibe of Below Deck, the competitive drama of Million Dollar Listing, and the cast will be super-hot.

Glass Half Empty: Um, did anyone else watch Work Out on Bravo? For some reason I watched every episode of that show and wasn’t entertained by it once. I don’t even think I had a single conversation with a friend about that show. I was a closeted Work Out watcher. This show is basically presenting itself as Work Out: New York. Dirty secret, Bravo: People HATE working out, and they certainly don’t want to watch other people do it.

Juliet’s Big Question: “Do trainers have specific traits and personalities outside of the gym?” Actually, they do. I know this because I had a couple of trainer friends when I lived in New York. Their lives basically rotate between working out themselves, working out their clients, fucking their clients, and then telling their friends about sleeping with their clients. That was my experience, at least. They all look great though.

I Will Watch … this only after establishing which trainer I have a crush on.

7. Married to Medicine Houston

Quick Summary: Add “Houston” to “Married to Medicine.” Voilà!

Glass Half Full: Married to Medicine was actually pretty solid once you (or your spouse) got into it, and Houston has yet to be given the full-on Bravo treatment. I better see a Bun B cameo at some party.

Glass Half Empty: Remember how I just said, “Married to Medicine was actually pretty solid once you (or your spouse) got into it”? I didn’t really mean that. What I meant was, “My wife keeps telling me it was good and she has good taste, so fuck it, I will just plagiarize her opinion and no one will really know.”

Juliet’s Big Question: “Is Bravo annexing Texas?” (Hold on a sec while I look up what “annexing” means … oh shit.) HELL NO. No one annexes Texas. Texas annexes other shit. Don’t mess with Texas.

I Will Watch … this while looking at Russian dash-cam videos on my phone.

8. Mother Funders

Quick Summary: Check out the richest, most intense, and craziest Parent Teacher Organization in America.

Glass Half Full: Do you like to watch crazy rich people? What about overbearing parents? What about intense competition between adults over petty shit? What about crazy kids? Have I got the show for you.

Glass Half Empty: In the description for the show, they mention that it will be full of “teachable moments.” I don’t come to Bravo to learn. I come to Bravo to laugh.

Juliet’s Big Question: “If you’re the school, why do you consent to this program?” If you are the school and all the people who give/raise you all the money ask you to consent to something, you just do. Simple.

I Will Watch … shit, there is very little chance I will watch this. I will watch this if it’s on after Below Deck Mediterranean and the first minute that is stuck on the end of BDM blows me the fuck away.

9. Recipe for Deception

Quick Summary: Top Chef mixed with Chopped mixed with a parlor game called Two Truths and a Lie.

Glass Half Full: It’s produced by Embassy Row and the brilliant, blazered Michael Davies. They know what they are doing and wouldn’t put out a shitty show. Trust.

Glass Half Empty: I have never heard of the parlor game Two Truths and a Lie, and I love parlors. Am I alone on this one? Is Two Truths and a Lie a thing and I just don’t know, like Snapchat?

Juliet’s Big Question: “What does Two Truths and a Lie have to do with cooking?????????” Based on her question, I am guessing that Juliet has heard of Two Truths and a Lie, so I guess it is a thing. Shit, now I have to go get Snapchat.

I Will Watch … this when I hear someone on these cooking shows FINALLY attacked someone else with a knife. HOW HAS THIS NOT HAPPENED?

10. NeNe and Kim: The Road to Riches (working title)

Quick Summary: NeNe and Kim take their tired personas on a road trip because they have alienated everyone in Georgia.

Glass Half Full: The simple fact that I know all about these two women’s history, families, and interests means I might just tune in to catch up with them and make sure they’re OK.

Glass Half Empty: You know that 46-year-old dude with the Von Dutch hat, chain wallet, and sunglasses down on his nose? This will be the television show version of that dude.

Juliet’s Big Question: “What can we learn about these two from a road trip that we don’t already know?”

I Will Watch … every week right at never o’clock.

God, just thinking about NeNe and Kim Zolciak fish-out-of-watering their way through a truck stop while followed by a camera crew makes me want to take up, I don’t know, reading books. Thanks for reading this week as always, listen to The Right Reasons, respect Andy Cohen, and enjoy the shit out of your weekend.

Filed Under: Reality TV, TV, Bravo, Real Housewives of Atlanta, Nene, Below Decks, Andy Cohen, Married to Medicine

David Jacoby is an ESPN producer who somehow became a writer and editor for Grantland.

Archive @ djacoby

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