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'Survivor' and reality shows still kicking

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Bill Radke: Believe it or not, it's been 10 years since the reality show Survivor debuted. And tonight, CBS celebrates with its 20th edition of the show. The original Survivor was an unexpected success for CBS, and as Ashley Milne-Tyte reports, it brought a whole new business model to television.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: Twenty-eight million viewers tuned in to watch the first season of Survivor. That show included this famous speech from contestant Sue, a truck driver from the Midwest:

Sue: Rich, you're a very openly arrogant, pompous human being. But I admire your frankness with it.

Real people competing, confessing and back-biting on screen. At the time, it was all new.

Ron Simon is curator for TV and radio at the Paley Center for Media:

Ron Simon: They are bringing emotions and thoughts and feelings that most people used to keep private. You know, it is compelling.

Survivor was followed by shows like American Idol, The Apprentice and The Biggest Loser.

Sam Craig teaches marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. He says networks were delighted to find reality shows were as popular as dramas.

Sam Craig: But the cost of that programming was approximately half of a prime-time drama. So the ad revenue stayed the same and in some cases grew, the cost diminished greatly, and so it was profitable.

Now TV schedules are crammed with reality shows. But Ron Simon says that's been good in some ways for comedies and dramas.

Simon: Say The Sopranos or The Wire or Rescue Me, they're something that we haven't seen before in drama. And I think reality in many ways have pushed producers to come up with new concepts in fictional programming.

Much of the best new drama is on cable. Sam Craig from the Stern School of Business says the networks, which rely mainly on ad revenue, can't afford to take as many risks.

Craig: All of the TV networks are part of major media conglomerates, and they've got someone looking over their shoulder and putting a lot of pressure on for quarterly results.

He says as long as reality shows keep making money, producers will keep dreaming up new concepts to temp contestants and viewers.

I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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