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Reality rookies make waves as worthy entries.

THIS YEAR, EMMY voters nominated new contenders in all three reality categories--a welcome development after years of the same series being rewarded. But make no mistake, these are still tough races, with lots of high production values, deft editing, and great storytelling on display.

REALITY COMPETITION

The Amazing Race

(CBS) (1)

It's been an "Amazing" run for the CBS series--15 wins, 71 nominations. Still a ratings winner, season 28 featured teams comprising social-media stars and the show's first trips to Colombia and Georgia (the country that borders Russia, not the U.S. state). The long-running series manages to up its game every year with fresh challenges and locations, and this year was no different. It could hold off the strong competition in this category for voters wanting to reward the inventiveness and sheer work involved in the production.

American Ninja Warrior

(NBC) (2)

The first nomination for this slowly building phenom is well-deserved: this is sports competition without the multimillion-dollar salaries and crazy egos. The ninjas are from all walks of life--a meteorologist, a gym owner, a stuntman, an IT specialist, a doctor--and the series expertly engages viewers in their stories via peppy prefilmed segments. But the real drama comes in the obstacle course and the fact that it's never pre-ordained who will make it through the warp wall to the end. Favorites fall, rookies log record times. Hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila are just as caught up in the drama as the viewers, with sometimes over-the-top naked enthusiasm that's refreshing.

Dancing With the Stars

(ABC) (3)

The unveiling of the competitors on this enduring terpsichorean series is national news, and while the show has earned a whopping 88 total nominations and 14 wins, it's never taken the reality competition series crown. Season 22 could be a breakthrough for Emmy voters looking to reward something different: "DWTS" saw its first deaf winner in Nyle DiMarco, adding a layer of achievement to the Mirror Ball trophy. (He also made reality TV history as the first deaf model to win "America's Next Top Model.")

Project Runway

(Lifetime) (4)

With 50 nominations, the veteran design competition has just two wins: for hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn in 2013 and editing in 2009. Always an also-ran in the category, "Project Runway" last season featured its first plus-sized designer, who went on to win the competition. As always, "Runway" delivered drama, but reasonable drama centered around a highly creative and talented group of artists, and the always-watchable Gunn and Klum as hosts, plus the usual stars as guest judges. Did last season deliver the goods for sewing up voters? In the pantheon of the long running series, season 14 was strong but not epic.

The Voice

(NBC) (5)

It's the strongest challenge to "The Amazing Race's" dominance in this category with 31 nominations and a big winner in this category last year. But "The Voice's" talented contestants were overshadowed by the romance of judges Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani--the tabloids loved it but can winner Alisan Porter break through the frenzy surrounding the loves and lives of the show's judges? Still, it's an entertaining show that produces a positive vibe and great storylines for viewers, and attracts top stars as mentors.

Top Chef

(Bravo)(6)

The venerable series always brings a food fight and passionate fans. The show won the category in 2010, but has been shut out since despite 25 nominations. Nevertheless, it's the gold standard in food competition series and the last season upped the bar with the talent level of the "cheftestants." "Top Chef" also took all the episodes on the road, traveling throughout California locations in an unprecedented road trip. Both are good reasons that might appeal to Emmy voters' palates.

STRUCTURED REALITY

Antiques Roadshow

(PBS) (1)

Public television's most-watched ongoing series has 14 nominations and no wins, and that may not change again this year. The enduring series still delivers thrills--half-forgotten items from a family attic appraised in the tens of thousands--quirky history lessons from the expert appraisers, and at least one fascinating personal story revolving around the antique. It's a great show that brings far-flung Americans together, at least through the TV. "Antiques Roadshow" has become a TV icon, but its much flashier competition in this category will make it challenging for the low-key and tightly produced series to get into the winner's circle.

Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

(Food Network) (2)

One of the most popular shows on Food Network, Triple D and its high-energy host, Guy Fieri, give deserved publicity to hometown restaurants and local chefs working in the trenches. It's a great way to spotlight the unsung heroes of the food world, and Fieri's enthusiasm certainly draws viewers into this world. The charm of the series lies in the discovery of local joints, its glossy travelogue across America, and Fieri's ability to connect the restaurant's staff with the viewers. The series recently visited Cuba too. With four nominations and no wins, maybe this is the year for the hardest-working show on Food Network to draw Emmy voters.

Lip Sync Battle

(Spike TV) (3)

A newcomer to the category, the phenomenal popularity of "Lip Sync Battle" could not be ignored by Emmy voters. It's given Spike a boost, but more importantly, millions watch its collection of battles on YouTube. Will the fact that "Battle" is also a viral sensation, gaining massive popularity through three-minute digital clips hurt it in Emmy voters' eyes as a cohesive show? The full episodes are well-crafted, using sometimes over-the-top stagecraft, and totally game stars--just check out all of Dwayne Johnson's performances. Don't discount hosts LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen's warmth, enthusiasm, and ability to give the deft editors of the show excellent cutaway and reaction shots.

MythBusters

(Discovery) (4)

Maybe it's time for the beloved series to take home the Emmy statue in its 14th and final season after seven previous nominations. Discovery's stalwart series has spawned a generation (and maybe future generations) of scientists and people who just want to question the status quo. The MythBusters themselves, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, are a class act whose meticulously constructed experiments touched on more than myths--they dug into Comic-Con geek-level stuff, and reportedly constructed the final season with their fans' likes in mind. Both Savage and Hyneman talk about the storytelling aspect of the series, and this season did not disappoint, offering lots of explosions.

Shark Tank

(ABC) (5)

It's got two wins--in 2014 and 2015--and eight noms in this category, and ABC's hit rides a formidable and entertaining format into the Emmys this year. The family friendly series never disappoints in presenting a panoply of entrepreneurial ideas --the good, the bad, and the funny. But the series has spawned real businesses and has inspired many to take their ideas to the next level. In a season seven highlight, three of the Sharks--Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, and Daymond John--visited the White House, where John received a presidential ambassadorship. In tough economic times, this series plays to the core the American dream.

Undercover Boss

(CBS) (6)

Still a ratings winner for the Eye, "Undercover Boss" has two wins in the reality category, before it was split into unstructured and structured. Emmy voters like to see the Man humbled a bit--the Ebenezer Scrooge gets woke conceit plays well with viewers, who can relate to the hard-working men and women in each episode. Season seven offered Buffalo wings and drag performers, plus more feel-good stories. While the show has stumbled on some controversies, it's still working for CBS, and has been renewed for season eight.

UNSTRUCTURED REALITY

Born This Way

(A&E) (1)

Picking up three nominations in its freshman year, "Born This Way" follows seven young adults with Down Syndrome. Doing away with any treacly sentimentality, the young protags on the Bunim-Murray series engage in their lives like any other young adult --there are ups and downs and crushes and highs and lows, wrapped up in a slick yet sweet and raw package of something different. The episode nominated, 'Don't Limit Me," says it all.

Deadliest Catch

(Discovery) (2)

A reality Emmy winner in 2011 for series, and an owner of 15 other Emmys in below-the-line categories --and deservedly so --the season 12 opener introduces new characters wrestling with the Pacific Ocean, and sets up lots of drama. These guys are tough as nails, but the entertainment comes in the human conflict that can be as petty as anything on the "Real Housewives." Advances in technology have'd boosted the storytelling options. In the episode submitted, "Carpe Diem," the ships' crews discover the true meaning of that phrase.

Gaycation With Ellen Page

(Viceland) (3)

Another freshman nominee, "Gaycation With Ellen Page" follows the actress and her best friend Ian Daniel around the world, exploring LGBT cultures. It's an important series--despite recent advances in this country for the legal rights of the LGBT community, those communities are still pretty marginalized in many countries. Like most content from Viceland, it's slickly produced, cheeky but serious, and seeks to get to certain truths. Its nomination marks Emmy voters' willingness to open up the category to new and edgy shows.

Intervention

(A&E) (4)

Another veteran of the reality category, "Intervention" has 10 nominations in total and two wins, including for reality program in 2009. It earnestly seeks to help while maintaining entertainment value, a balance that works well. It's also good drama. But while the episodes offer hope, will voters be turned off by too much drug-fueled drama?

Project Greenlight

(HBO) (5)

The series--which ran for three seasons on HBO from 2001-03 and again in 2015--hit some choppy waters this year when producer Matt Damon was criticized over comments he made about diversity, and it never produced a level of talent that wowed the business. HBO recently cancelled the series, although Damon and producing partner Ben Affleck are shop ping it around to digital studios. That said, it's a solidly produced series that has spawned a digital incubator, which has teamed with Issa Rae in a contest to find diverse new writers. It's got four previous Emmy nominations, including one in 2005 for reality program when it aired on Bravo.

United Shades of America

(CNN) (6)

Another welcome newcomer with a social justice conscience makes its Emmy debut. Host W. Kamau Bell, a standup comedian, visits places a black guy shouldn't go and discover all the cultures and subcultures, to paraphrase him, that make up America. The results are funny and eye-opening and maddening and complicated. Bell is funny and fearless in an eye-opening series that has given CNN a pop of edginess.
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Title Annotation:CONTENDERS: REALITY
Author:Horst, Carole
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 16, 2016
Words:1767
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