Summer Reality TV Preview: 15 Shows to Watch

Our preview of summer television kicks off with this look at new and returning reality shows. In a few days, we'll also preview summer's top scripted shows.

It's time to get real

ImageAnother summer at the Shore

With temperatures ticking upward and episodes of American Idol winding down, reality TV aficionados will need new unscripted entertainment to occupy those hot summer nights spent indoors with the air conditioning up and the television blaring. Thankfully, five brand new shows and ten returning series will help fill the void.

Among the new shows are peeks into the mystery-laden world of ghosts, doctors, artists and mental disorders. The returning series feature old favorites such as The Bachelorette, Intervention, and the second season of MTV’s smash hit Jersey Shore, which promises to showcase a summer vacation far more exciting than yours or mine.

Below, we examine the more interesting of this summer's crop of reality shows, followed by a calendar listing premiere dates for returning favorites and new programs.

Five new summer series

Boston Med
(ABC, Thursdays at 10p starting June 24)

Doctor dramas, patient meltdowns, emergency room fiascos and end-of-life counseling comprise the eight episodes of this real-life Grey’s Anatomy, which picks up where the award-winning documentary series Hopkins 78 left off. Three Boston-area hospitals are spotlighted, their doctors ranging from immigrant residents to seasoned veterans. There are surgeries gone wrong, operating room arguments, life-saving patient procedures and breakups of personal relationships, which means it’s just like every other hospital show on TV, except that it’s real.

Why watch? Because there is a young African-American brain surgeon on the show who looks just like President Barack Obama.

My Ghost Story
(Bio, Saturdays at 10p starting June 17)

What’s most compelling about the eight hour-long episodes that make up BIO’s My Ghost Story is that the paranormal experiences on display were actually captured on tape. The show features everything from haunted houses to haunted hotels to haunted historical landmarks and spotlights jaw-dropping poltergeists and apparitions, who become the breakout star of each episode in this very scary series.

Why watch? Because you’ve always believed in ghosts and this show will prove you were right.

The OCD Project
(VH1, Thursdays at 10p starting May 27)

If Intervention doesn’t provide enough raw human suffering for you, consider giving The OCD Project a whirl. The show follows six patients suffering from severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, whose daily lives are paralyzed by their obsessive rituals. Enter Dr. David Tolin, creator of a controversial immersion therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention, which forces patients to confront their greatest fears. Soon enough, the woman afraid of her son dying will have to eulogize him in a mock funeral. You can imagine the rest.

Why watch? Because it promises to be gripping television that inspires as much as it horrifies, a rare combination.

The Tournament
(VH1, Sundays at 9p starting July 11)

Cincinnati Bengals star Chad Ocho Cinco takes his flamboyant personality off the football field and into the dating pool to bring VH1 viewers his own spin on a reality dating competition. Naturally, his version resembles a football tournament, which begins with four divisions of women, then morphs into regional faceoffs, and ultimately has two finalists competing for the star’s Championship Ring — and the love in his heart, of course.

Why watch? Because anyone who legally changes his name from Chad Johnson to Chad Ocho Cinco deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Work of Art: The Next Great Artist
(Bravo, Wednesdays at 10p starting June 9)

In this Project Runway for the art world, 14 fine artists are charged with creating weekly masterpieces in a variety of artistic media. The hopefuls are assembled in New York and consist of the art world’s brightest up-and-comers, whose artworks are evaluated by a panel of accomplished (and likely snooty) judges. Last artist standing receives $100,000, a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the ego boost that comes with being crowned The Next Great Artist.

Why watch? Because it’s sure to have enough strange characters and creations to make it visually interesting.

Ten (+2) shows returning this summer

America's Got Talent
(NBC, Tuesdays at 8p starting June 1)
So You Think You Can Dance
(Fox, Wednesdays at 8p starting May 27)

Though they’ve never discovered an Adam Lambert or Cheryl Burke, America’s Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance do provide cozy summer stand-ins while American Idol and Dancing With the Stars are on hiatus. Plus, they offer average hopefuls a talent competition they can actually win. For Talent, Nick Cannon returns as host, with Howie Mandel joining British ex-pats Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan at the taciturn judging panel. For Dancing, Cat Deeley hosts, with Mia Michaels, Adam Shankman and Nigel Lythgoe serving as resident judges.

Why watch? Because you need to be watching a singing or dancing reality competition show year-round, and these two are available.

The Bachelorette
(ABC, Mondays at 8p starting May 24)

ABC’s hallmark dating show brings audiences yet another Bachelor reject who’s looking for love in all the wrong places. San Francisco-based Ali Fedotowsky is this season’s bachelorette charged with winnowing down a pool of 25 men into one husband via a series of awkward dates and dramatic rose ceremonies that prove once again that bad reality TV is sometimes the best kind to watch.

Why watch? To witness the most dramatic rose ceremony ever!

Hell's Kitchen
(Fox, Tuesdays at 8p starting June 1)

Gordon Ramsey shouts and curses his way back into Hell’s Kitchen for the 7th season of this tough-love cooking competition whose grand prize is an executive chef slot at a fancy restaurant (this time, at Araxi Restaurant in Whistler, British Columbia). Under Ramsey’s abusive tutelage, 16 hopeful chefs compete in grueling food-service competitions while hungry patrons complain about the slow service.

Why watch? Because Ramsey’s temper tantrums evoke some epic meltdowns from the chefs.

(A&E, Mondays at 9p starting June 28)

Winner of 2009’s Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program, the A&E hit returns with more people on the verge of drug-induced nervous breakdowns and the friends and family who love them. Now in its 9th season, the show boasts an impressive number of success stories: By its own recordkeeping, out of the 158 interventions performed since Intervention’s 2005 premiere, 125 individuals are still sober.

Why watch? Because it’s a do-gooder show that really deserved that Emmy.

Jersey Shore
(MTV, Thursdays at 10p starting July 29)

MTV’s breakout show takes its G-T-L to Miami Beach this season, bringing along the bar fights and hot tub makeout sessions that skyrocketed it into superstardom. Snooki, J-Woww and The Situation reprise their roles as the drama-prone, overly tan and super coiffed hellraisers bent on stretching their 15 minutes into another summer.

Why watch? Because you secretly watched the first season and liked it.

Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List
(Bravo, Tuesdays at 9p starting June 15)

Despite her A-list level success, Kathy Griffin kicks off the sixth season of her D-listed show by losing out on a Creative Arts Emmy — made worse by the fact that she was hosting the Awards when it happened. Such is the poetry of Griffin’s life, which in this latest incarnation finds her marching on Washington for gay rights, paling around Alaska with fellow D-lister Levi Johnston, judging toddler beauty pageants, and stalking A-listers such as Kristen Chenoweth and Liza Minnelli.

Why watch? Because even though she’s annoying, she’s also funny and knows how to put on a good show.

Man v. Food
(Travel Channel, Wednesdays at 9p starting June 16)

Television’s most obscene food show returns for a third season and features even more gut-busting meals and surreal eating competitions that make KFC’s Double Down Sandwich look like a light snack. The Man in question is food enthusiast Adam Richman and the challenging Food has included three-pound cinnamon rolls and a 72-ounce steak, the latter of which Richman consumed in under an hour (and subsequently got for free).

Why watch? Because you need ideas for your next roadtrip.

The Next Food Network Star
(Food Network, Sundays at 9p starting June 6)
Top Chef
(Bravo, Wednesdays at 9p starting June 16)

Because one Rachael Ray is not enough, The Next Food Network Star re-ignites its quest to find TV's next breakout chef by following 12 hopeful cooks competing for a chance at their very own show. Meanwhile, the chef-testants on Bravo's Top Chef (set, this season, in the surprising culinary hotbed of Washington, D.C.) are battling for cold hard cash and the respect of new judge Eric Ripert of New York's Le Bernardin. The former show will include appearances from celebrity guests such as Eva Longoria and Wolfgang Puck, while Buzz Aldrin, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Scarborough will visit the latter.

Why watch? Because you love food shows, but Hell’s Kitchen and Man v. Food are too scary.

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
(Showtime, Thursdays at 10p starting June 10)

The original mythbusters return for their 8th season on Showtime, where the duo use their powers of trickery for good instead of evil. This season, the pro-science, libertarian magic men examine the bullshit behind such topics as cheerleaders, vaccinations and teen sex.

Why watch? As if the cheerleaders and teen sex aren’t reasons enough.

Toddlers & Tiaras
(TLC, Wednesdays at 10p starting June 2)

Disturbing as much as it is captivating, the series follows pint-sized pageant queens and the parents who groom them with heavy makeup, spray-on tanner, fake eyelashes and hair extensions. The competition is fierce and the drama runs rampant as the tots vie for cash prizes, bragging rights and glittery tiaras in a variety of stress-filled pageants, pushing the parents toward ever questionable behavior.

Why watch? Because seeing the highlights on The Soup isn't enough.

All new and returning reality shows this summer

Here is a handy schedule of the premiere dates for all reality programs debuting or returning over the next few months. All times below are Eastern/Pacific.

Premiere Dates for Returning Reality Series
Date Time Show Network
Mon 5/24 8p The Bachelorette ABC
Tue 5/25 10p Table for 12 TLC
Thu 5/27 9p Police Women of Memphis TLC
Thu 5/27 8p So You Think You Can Dance Fox
Mon 5/31 9p Cake Boss TLC
Mon 5/31 10p True Beauty ABC
Tue 6/1 8p America's Got Talent NBC
Tue 6/1 8p Hell's Kitchen Fox
Tue 6/1 9p One Big Happy Family TLC
Tue 6/1 10p The Little Couple TLC
Wed 6/2 9p Ghost Hunters Academy Syfy
Wed 6/2 10p Toddlers & Tiaras TLC
Fri 6/4 9p Whale Wars Animal Planet
Sun 6/6 9p Ice Road Truckers History
Sun 6/6 9p The Next Food Network Star Food Network
Mon 6/7 10p All Worked Up TruTV
Mon 6/7 10p Dance Your Ass Off Oxygen
Mon 6/7 9p Last Comic Standing NBC
Wed 6/9 10p Monsters Inside Me Animal Planet
Thu 6/10 10p Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Showtime
Sun 6/13 10p Atlas 4D Discovery
Sun 6/13 10p HGTV Design Star HGTV
Sun 6/13 10p Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami E!
Tue 6/15 9p Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List Bravo
Wed 6/16 9p Man v. Food Travel Channel
Wed 6/16 9p Top Chef Bravo
Mon 6/28 9p Intervention A&E
Mon 6/28 10p Obsessed A&E
Wed 6/30 10p Raising Sextuplets WE
Thu 7/8 10p Top 20 Most Shocking TruTV
Sun 7/11 10p Las Vegas Jailhouse TruTV
Sun 7/11 10p The TO Show VH1
Wed 7/14 9p Ghost Hunters International Syfy
Wed 7/14 10p Pros vs. Joes Spike
Sat 7/17 9p Celebrity Ghost Stories Bio
Sun 7/25 9p I Survived... Bio
Thu 7/29 10p Jersey Shore MTV
Mon 8/9 10p Dating in the Dark ABC
Mon 8/9 10p Scream Queens VH1
Tue 8/10 9p Shaq vs. ABC
Wed 8/11 10p Hard Knocks HBO
Wed 8/25 10p She's Got the Look TV Land
Premiere Dates for New Reality Series
Date Time Show Network
Thu 5/27 10p Mall Cops: Mall of America TLC
Thu 5/27 10p The OCD Project VH1
Mon 5/31 10p Dad Camp VH1
Tue 6/1 8p Losing It with Jillian NBC
Tue 6/1 10p Jersey Couture Oxygen
Tue 6/1 11p Downtown Girls MTV
Wed 6/2 11p Half Pint Brawlers Spike
Sun 6/6 10p Top Shot History
Mon 6/7 10p Last American Cowboy Animal Planet
Mon 6/7 10p Mega Bites TLC
Tue 6/8 11p Pirate Hunters Spike
Wed 6/9 10p Work of Art: The Next Great Artist Bravo
Thu 6/10 10p Bethenny's Getting Married? Bravo
Fri 6/11 10p Stranded Discovery
Sun 6/13 10:30p Holly's World E!
Mon 6/14 9p You're Cut Off! VH1
Mon 6/14 10p Food Buddha TLC
Tue 6/15 10p Double Exposure Bravo
Wed 6/16 9p The Fabulous Beekman Boys Planet Green
Wed 6/16 10p Bert the Conqueror Travel Channel
Fri 6/18 10p Battle of the Wedding Planners TLC
Fri 6/18 10p Cupcake Wars Food Network
Sat 6/19 8p Last Chance Highway Animal Planet
Sun 6/20 10p The Real L Word Showtime
Mon 6/21 9p Ultimate Car Build Off Discovery
Mon 6/21 10p Inedible to Incredible TLC
Mon 6/21 10p Heartland Thunder Discovery
Thu 6/24 10p Boston Med ABC
Wed 7/7 10p The Choir BBC America
Sun 7/11 9p The Tournament VH1
Thu 7/15 9p Mary Knows Best Syfy
Thu 7/15 10p Paranormal Investigators Syfy
Fri 7/16 10p Cupcake Dream TLC
Sat 7/17 10p My Ghost Story Bio
Tue 7/27 9p Masterchef Fox
Fri 7/30 9p Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta TLC
Mon 8/9 8p The Bachelor Pad ABC
Sun 8/15 10p Food Trucks Food Network

Metacritic reality show contributor Milla Goldenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (10)

  • Jack  

    I don’t know who sits at the top of the TV Networks, but they must be brain dead to allow such programing. They must sell a hell of a lot of commercials but they lost most viewers I know when they began this reality TV crap. They are surely destined to be the next bankrupt business who will be looking for government bail outs! If you’re out there Mr. Programmer, please take note and defend yourselves if you can.

  • Chris  

    Big Brother has had some good seasons, but in general the casting is so bad it's borderline unwatchable. The Doctor Will seasons are an exception. In general we get a bunch of whiny drama queen 23 year olds who can't take their eyes away from the mirror and one 45 year old who is treated like an old man. Also they keep having stupid gimmicks like 'Coup de tat' and 'America's Player' that make it into a lame popularity contest instead of a social game.

  • Shannon  

    Loved the article - particularly the "why watch?" bullet points with dead-on answers. I will be saving this list.

  • Jason Dietz  

    @Anonymous Coward: We only included shows that are officially on the networks' summer schedules. As of now, Big Brother is not yet on CBS's summer schedule (although the network has indicated the show will return this year).

  • Anonymous Coward  

    Metacritic editorials always miss something important, or at least what I find to be. Where's the "Big Brother" love? How could you not include one of the BEST, and longest running reality shows currently on TV

  • Tamara Harris  

    That Milla Goldenberg really can write. I was riveted by the article!

  • Joe  

    That's embarassing...

  • eric  

    my top three shows for the summer:

  • Christopher  

    Of those listed, I'll probably only watch Hell's Kitchen.

  • Mitch Tough  

    G-T-L and **** for me. Except for maybe the T - it's overrated.

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