How ‘American Idol’ Killed ‘Fear Factor’

Most people watch reality TV to escape from their own reality, soaking up the drama that other people experience via (mostly) unscripted situations. From popular shows like Survivor, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and Top Chef came tons of memes, unexpected fame of contestants, and TV ratings that sitcoms couldn’t compete with at times. But with all the different types of reality TV competing for attention, some lasted longer than others.

Like The Simple Life, a few were only on for a few years, while others, like Dancing With The Stars, are still on the air after 15+ years.

Some leave TV behind, only to come back for a revival, changing hosts or the premise to attract a new audience. Or, one network may be ready to move on, while another network is eager to take the reins and keep the show alive. American Idol and Fear Factor are two such reality TV shows.

The rise of reality TV

LIONEL RICHIE, KATY PERRY, LUKE BRYAN | Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images

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While reality TV rose to fame in the late 90s and early 00s, it actually started in 1973 with the PBS show An American Family. A few shows debuted in between, such as Star Search and Network Stars. There were also shows that debuted before the massive rise in popularity that are still on today, such as Cops in 1989 and The Real World in 1992. 

Reality TV is different today than it was back then, with even more drama now. But it’s also brought important topics to light such as sexuality, race, addiction, and other social issues, and enabled conversations that otherwise might not be happening.

There’s a reason reality TV has dominated the channels for the past two and a half decades. Whether it’s all unscripted or has some behind-the-scenes manipulation, the formula works and gets people watching. Today, there are reality TV shows about food, fame, fortune, fitness, finding love, and more. 

The greatest reality TV show of all?

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It’s hard to say which reality show is the greatest of all time. Do you define this by how long the show has been on (Cops is the longest-running), by year (2020=Tiger King), by success stories that come out of it (American Idol produced several Grammy winners, an Emmy winner, and an Academy Awards winner), or something else?

Overall, talent shows, and musical ones especially, tend to be the most popular with viewers. That might explain why American Idol has been on since 2002. It paved the way for other talent shows like The Voice, The X Factor, and America’s Got Talent. 

The show has produced more household names than any other reality show and has produced more stars than The Voice. But some fans feel that the show isn’t as relevant any longer, and it may even get canceled again at some point (it moved networks in 2016 after FOX dropped the show).

How Idol killed off other reality TV shows

While American Idol has paved the way for some reality TV shows, it hurt others. American Idol saw so much success that it began to kill off a few other series. It was so successful that rival networks didn’t want to air their shows against it in the same time slot, calling it the “death star.” 

Fear Factor is one that couldn’t hold up to the popularity of American Idol. It debuted in 2001 and was originally created to be NBC’s way to compete with CBS’s powerhouse Survivor. Packed with fear-inducing and gross-out worthy challenged and hosted by Joe Rogan, it eventually got canceled in 2006. Joe Rogan shared that he thought the challenges were a bit too outrageous and that the one with the contestant that had to drink donkey semen was the straw that broke the camel’s back. There was even a lawsuit because a viewer injured himself while watching. 

But American Idol’s popularity also hurt the show. As the show gained steam, Fear Factor couldn’t compete with Idol’s Tuesday night ratings and lost viewers to the singing competition.

The show eventually got axed in 2006. NBC tried again in 2011, with Joe Rogan returning to the helm, but only lasted one season. Five years later, MTV tried their hand at a revival, with rapper and actor Ludacris hosting, but it just couldn’t catch back on and was canceled after two seasons.