In an episode from motorsports network
Speed’s newest reality series, Joe Ferrer — the burly owner
of an auto-parts company in the Northeast — visits a local
restaurant owner whose Italian-made 1957 Fiat 500 is parked
on the sidewalk because the steering wheel won’t turn.
Ferrer has until dusk to identify, acquire and install all the
parts necessary to get the car moving and off the sidewalk
before it’s towed by the local police.
If you’re not one of Speed’s avid auto-loving viewers and
just happened to see the show’s description on your channel
guide, you might not be inclined to tune in. But if you
read the show’s title, Hard Parts: South Bronx, network
executives believe you might be more likely to watch for
at least a couple of minutes, based on your perceptions
— whether positive or negative — of the New York City
As recent ratings history suggests, for some reality
series it’s all about location, location, location.
From MTV’s Jersey Shore to History’s Cajun Pawn Stars to National
Geographic Channel’s Alaska State Troopers, the destination
city, state or region in a reality series’ title can be as much of
a ratings and viewership draw as the unusual and charismatic
characters that star on the shows.
Cable-network executives say adding the name of a series’ locale
to its title is an effective marketing tool for building momentum and
viewer curiosity well before the show debuts. Associating a show
with the image and perception of New York’s glitz and glamour,
Atlanta’s Southern charm and multiculturalism, California’s
Hollywood luxury or Louisiana’s Cajun country comforts helps it to
stand out in a very crowded reality genre and draw strong ratings.
For Speed’s Hard Parts: South Bronx, the combination of Ferrer,
the colorful, blue-collar boss, and the hard-nosed, gritty image
of the neighborhood powered the show’s debut last month as
the second most-watched series launch on the network, attracting
hard-core and non-auto fans alike.
“When you’re tapping into different regions around the country,
you’re tapping into different personalities, cultures, and ultimately,
that’s what distinguishes one show from the next,” said Sarah Weidman,
senior vice president of original programming and development
for Style, which has several destination-titled shows on the air,
including Chicagolicious and Big Rich Texas. “The most important
thing is big personalities, and I think your region defi nes who you are
and contributes to that.”
Scripted shows have long used destinations in their titles to help
define them: Hawaii Five-0 (old and new), New York Undercover, The
Streets of San Francisco, CSI: Miami and CSI: New York, and Dallas, the
popular primetime soap opera of the ’80s that TNT recently relaunched.
Since the mid-2000s, the reality genre has capitalized on incorporating
city names into show titles. More than 30 shows on nearly a dozen
networks have featured popular locations like Atlanta, Chicago, Alaska,
New Jersey, New York and Miami to help lure viewers.
The trend has become more prevalent over the past two years as networks
aggressively seek out unique and interesting locales for their reality
shows. One prolific reality-show producer who wished to remain anonymous said the most
popular reality-show concept request from networks is for a city- or regional-themed show.
“You can’t pitch anything but regional shows to networks …
that’s all executives want to hear these days,” the producer said, adding that
shows from Atlanta and the Midwest are in high demand. “These shows really
sell themselves to viewers.”
Locales like New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans and Alaska also attract
tourists, and shows originating from tourist destinations tend to draw more viewers during
an economic downturn, when people don’t have the money to travel or take vacations.
“In a tough economy people can’t travel, so it’s an easy way to visit places,” Erik Arneson, vice
president of media relations at Fox Sports-owned Speed, said. “If you make it easy for the viewers
to identify with your show, whether it’s Hawaii Five-0 or Hard Parts: South Bronx, it gives them
a ticket to sit on the couch and feel like they’re visiting somewhere they can’t get to otherwise.”
The success of a franchise such as MTV’s Jersey Shore —
which follows the often outrageous exploits of Snooki, DJ
Pauly D and The Situation, all of whom are now household
names — is owed as much to its location as to its cast. Jersey
Shore remains the great white shark of the genre, averaging
an original-cable series-best 9.2 million viewers in 2011.
Spinning off a reality show by pegging it to a new location
has also kept aging franchises fresh and unique. The
basic concept of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise — profiling the exploits of wealthy women in a glamorous locale
— has remained the same since it was launched in 2006
with The Real Housewives of Orange County. Bravo executive
vice president of program strategy and production Jerry
Leo said moving to different cities — and adding the culture
and personality of those locales — has given the franchise
shots of adrenaline.
“We try to pick cities that our viewers were interested in,”
Leo said. Over the last six years, since first targeting Orange
County, Calif., Bravo has produced multiple seasons of Housewives
spinoffs based in Atlanta; New York; New Jersey; Miami;
Washington, D.C.; and Beverly Hills, Calif. “We were
pretty strategic in that they were always cities that we
do really well in.”
We TV senior vice president of original production and
development Lauren Gellert said shows like her network’s
salon-based L.A. Hair unconsciously provide viewers with a
preconceived notion of what they’ll see on the show, which
can initially help the series draw viewers. L.A. Hair, which
profiles celebrity stylist Kim Kimble and her business, drew
555,000 viewers in its May 31 debut, more than double
We TV’s 245,000 primetime average for the month.
PLACE IS PERSONA
“The city is a character and always will be a character — L.A.
is one of the luckiest cities to be in because of this glamour
— and everyone is always interested in what’s happening
there, whether you’re a housewife in Westchester [County,
N.Y.] or in the Pacific Northwest,” Gellert said. “There’s always
something going on in L.A., and our show reflects that.”
While a location draws viewer curiosity, Gellert warned
that a show must have strong and appealing human characters
to get viewers to stick around. “The success of Jersey Shore
spawned a number of Jersey-based shows, from [Oxygen’s] Jersey
Couture to [Style’s] Jerseylicious, but it wasn’t because everyone
all of the sudden thought Jersey was so interesting. What
they saw was the popular cast from Jersey Shore and the numbers
the show brought in.”
Established franchises with titles that change from seasonto-
season based on the new season’s locale can confuse viewers
who have settled in with a certain city or cast.
Also, such changes can test viewer loyalty when it comes
to technical issues like scheduling the DVR, Bravo’s Leo
said. For example, fans of Bravo franchises like Top Chef and
Real Housewives cannot use the popular DVR season-pass
function for those shows, because with each new variation
on the show’s title comes a new code for the DVR to recognize.
That means viewers must reprogram their set-tops to
record the new season.
That’s a price worth paying for networks looking to create
awareness and ratings for their reality shows, according to Leo.
“It’s probably a risk to [change show names season to
season] but it’s been such a tradition for us, and we really
know it refreshes the franchise, so we won’t change that at
all,” Leo said.
Real Housewives of Orange County — Bravo
Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles — Bravo
L.A. Hair — We TV
Texas Women — CMT
Big Rich Texas — Style
Storage Wars Texas — A&E
Flying Wild Alaska – Discovery
Alaska State Troopers – Nat Geo
Coast Guard Alaska – Weather Channel
Cajun Pawn Stars — History
Bayou Billionaires — CMT
Tough Love: New Orleans — VH1
Chicagolicious – Style
Mob Wives Chicago – VH1
Airport 24/7: Miami — Travel
Dance Moms: Miami — Lifetime
New York City
Big Brooklyn Style — TLC
Hard Parts: South Bronx — Speed
Brooklyn 11223 — Oxygen
Jersey Couture — Oxygen
Jerseylicous — Style
Jersey Shore — MTV
Real Housewives of Atlanta — Bravo
Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta — TLC
Love & Hip Hop Atlanta — VH1