Online, Reality TV Gets Even More Absurd

Has reality television run its course? Online, it’s just warming up.

I am truly obsessed with reality TV. Whether it’s about fashion, cooking, impersonating Britney Spears, finding the love of your life, or eating bugs for money, the show has got my rapt attention. But reality television is beginning to show signs of aging. Survivor had its U.S. debut eight years ago, and The Real World, if you want to count that, premiered in—brace yourself, geezer—1992. And the ratings are beginning to reflect this. Success stories like So You Think You Can Dance, Last Comic Standing and The Bachelorette are now shedding viewers, according to Luckily, there’s a wealth of content online to satisfy the tastes of any reality-show lover. From office humor to MTV-style dating shows to hair-loss confessionals, YouTube hosts thousands of hours of reality viewing pleasure, no matter how niche your tastes.

Here are six online reality shows that could take The Hills’ slot any day now.

1) Dating Brad Garrett

Either Garrett truly believes in the power of the internet, or he’s just that desperate for a woman. Famous for sitcom roles on Everybody Loves Raymond and ’Til Death, Garrett stars in and produces this online reality series. Each episode follows him on one of ten blind dates, which range from awkward to disastrous. Interested ladies submit videos about themselves and why they want to date Brad, then are then chosen by a panel from Brad’s production staff and enjoy a first date before an audience of millions.

2) The Next Internet Millionaire

This show aired in the fall of 2007 and pulled out all the stops: a high-drama entrance by host Joel Comm in a stretch Expedition limo, a panel of expert judges, and stunt-based tasks aimed at sending the contestants packing. The key fault in this otherwise slickly produced show about the oh-so-glamorous world of, um, internet marketing was the host, internet geek—I mean, web marketing guru (and shameless self-promoter)—Joel Comm. Canadian Jaime Luchuck was declared the winner, and Joel is surely proud: she too now hawks her book From Cubicle Slave to the Next Internet Millionaire online. (Even better, when you try to navigate away from her site, you get every annoying pop-up ad ever created, making you wish internet marketing never existed in the first place.) You can also tune in to Joel Comm’s new YouTube self-celebration, The Dot Comm Story.

3) Jake and Amir

Office humor is hot right now, so Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld, two co-workers who sit opposite each other at the College Humor offices in New York, created a comedy series loosely based on their lives as drones. They accrued a loyal following, and have even talked with MTV about a spinoff. “Amir and I started making goofy videos after work one day and our friends really enjoyed them,” says Jake, “so we created a site to give the videos a home. To this day we just assume our friends watch them, and the thousands of others are just a fun bonus. There have been so many highlights from the whole experience. Having our own shirt printed for BustedTees was one of them. It's really cool when people send us pictures of themselves with me and Amir's faces on their chests.”

4) Meet The Wilsons

For those who can tear themselves away from the family dramas of real celebs for eight minutes, this earnest show provides a raw-reality view into the lives of Kortney and Dave Wilson of Nashville, Tennessee. It follows the couple as they try for a record deal, adopt a baby girl, and raise their two small boys. From the get-go, they acknowledge that this is their last chance at success in the country music business, as they document a chaotic home life that many Americans can likely relate to.

5) Kate Modern

Remember LonelyGirl15, the faux-YouTube star who caused a scandal and triggered a trend wherein professionals pose as amateur videographers? Apparently she’s no one-hit wonder. The folks behind LonelyGirl15’s rise went on to produce a second successful internet reality show for UK social network, Bebo, called Kate Modern. Set in London, it integrates fictional characters with its online viewers as they seek to solve a murder mystery. The show ended this summer with a finale spectacular -- 12 episodes in 12 hours, highlighting just how far you can go with an internet show (with plenty of product sponsorship and someone else footing the bill, that is.)

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6) Hair Loss Confidential

There’s been a missing piece in bald-based entertainment since Cy Sperling’s “Hair Club for Men” commercials went off the air, but a new reality show proves there’s more to scalp reforestation than plugs and ill-fitting toupees. Through this website, viewers can nominate friends, family, and co-workers to get a hair intervention and have their grief, heartache, and humiliation taped and broadcast for the entire internet-viewing population to see. The fact that this show even exists makes me a little humiliated to be, you know…human.

Randi Zuckerberg works in marketing at Facebook, where she leads the company’s election strategy and has pioneered several large media partnerships. Included in The Hollywood Reporter’s 2008 Digital Power List, she is also a founder of The Dot Comix, an online video troupe that creates satirical videos about technology and geek culture.