Whether they're South African versions of international shows or original productions, South African reality shows often come under fire. Is the criticism justified? We investigate.

US vs. SA shows
Reality shows like American Idol and Survivor might be overdone, but there's no doubt that in the US television industry, ratings are king. When a reality show works overseas and gets high ratings, local television producers jump on the bandwagon – yet our versions lack the multimillion-dollar budgets and star power that the US shows offer and therefore often lack their polished production. The embarrassing SA Idols mix-up in 2009 when the votes were incorrectly counted and two winners had to be crowned proves that SA producers still have a lot to learn. But at least the most recent series didn't fall prey to the same errors.
"I think the international reality shows don't work so well either… at least not anymore," says Mandy Collins, a DESTINY MAN Facebook fan. "They're starting to lose their novelty value and, with any luck, may soon come to an end. But the SA ones often feel like poor cousins."

With the recent screening of season ten of American Idol hitting US and SA screens complete with new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, the wave of US reality shows gives no signs of abating. And the ratings are higher than ever.

SA's version, Idols, will also return in June this year for season seven. There's also a judge reshuffle as controversial judge Mara Louw leaves the show and singer and Metro FM DJ Unathi Msengana takes her place.

While the show continues to bring in the viewers, there's also the question of limited exposure for South African winners. "Future winners need to start off by realising the music industry in SA is nothing like what you think it is. There are some similarities, but in essence it;s not like the industry in the US or UK," says season one Idols' winner, Heinz Winckler.

Original offerings
There's no doubt that homegrown versions of overseas shows bring in the ratings, but original concepts have the advantage of not being compared to more slick productions. DESTINY MAN Facebook fan Tebogo Kgaka Lepile says: "Our versions of popular reality shows are interesting, but so much can be done to put in more South African elements. In addition, we can create our own reality shows. I bet there are more ideas out there that need funding."

Original, quality SA reality shows are in short supply, but there are some contenders. Rated as one of SABC 1's top shows of 2010, Class Act showcases the SA film industry and is the brainchild of South African movie maker Donovan Marsh (director of Spud). Class Act offers aspiring South African actors the chance to gain exposure, get international acting training, secure agency representation and possibly star in a movie. The competition is narrowed down to 10 actors, one of whom gets eliminated each week as they act out scenes in different genres. The second season will be on screen later this year.

So while it has its weaknesses, as the SA television industry continues to grow, its potential to create original cutting-edge programming will increase.