By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
Since the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences created the Outstanding Reality-Competition Program category in 2003, “The Amazing Race” has won the Emmy both times. As it shoots for No. 3, it has several things going for it.
“Unlike others in the genre, this is a show that has heroes and villains,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at Katz Television Group. “Plus, it’s a great travelogue.
“What it really does more than any other reality-competition show can be expressed on two levels,” Mr. Carroll said. “It exposes the different kinds of human relationships, and it exposes the American public to other cultures. Underneath, it’s saying that in many ways we’re the same, [but] in other ways we’re different.”
“The Amazing Race,” created by the husband-and-wife team of Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri and executive produced by Mr. van Munster and Jerry Bruckheimer for CBS, is part reality show, part game show and part scavenger hunt. It premiered in 2001 and has offered seven “rounds” so far-about two 13-week cycles per year.
“I’m a filmmaker,” Mr. van Munster said. “That’s how I approach the show. For me as a filmmaker, the story has to make sense. When you have people together, characters will emerge. Some will be difficult, perceived as bad ones. Some will be seen as good ones. The audience is drawn into that.”
Despite its Emmys and ongoing ratings success, the show, hosted by Phil Keoghan, has not had the kind of saturated publicity received by some of its competition, such as “Survivor,” which penetrated the American psyche earlier and has higher Nielsen numbers, and “American Idol,” which was the top-rated series on television during the 2004-05 season, according to Nielsen Media Research.
“Maybe some other shows do get more publicity, although we’ve won the Emmys,” Mr. van Munster said. “I don’t worry about that. My feelings are not hurt. There’s room for everyone.”
Though Mr. van Munster is the reality show equivalent of a showrunner, traveling the globe to both scout and shoot the show, he credits Mr. Bruckheimer, who, he said, is “the guy I turn to when I have a question, and someone who always has a valid answer. There’s no better producer in the business. None.”
“Jerry Bruckheimer and I are committed to making the show as high-end television as possible,” he said. “We said to each other at the beginning, ‘Let’s do something that’s quality.’ I’m proud to say I think we have.”
As for CBS’s role, Mr. van Munster said the network “leaves us alone 98 percent of the time, but I have to give them credit. Sometimes they frown about something we want to do, a cost. But every time there has been a question, they always come around with, ‘Yeah. Let’s do that.'”
Mr. van Munster said he is convinced the show will last several more seasons, at least.
“In the ’50s and ’60s it was shows like ‘Car 54, Where Are You?'” he said. “In the ’90s, the public interest turned to shows right out there, like ‘Cops.’ This is where the public is now, shows like ours.”
“It always begins with a good solid idea that fits the mood the public is in,” he said.
Others to Consider
2004 Reality-Competition Contenders
Winner: The Amazing Race (CBS)
Other nominees: American Idol (Fox); The Apprentice (NBC); Last Comic Standing (NBC); Survivor (CBS)