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A pandemic hits reality TV

It’s still early, but it’s safe to say that “Coronavirus” is likely to be the word of the year.  After all, this mysterious plague-like illness is sweeping the planet.  Including my TV.  And I don’t even drink Mexican beer.

CBS recently halted production on this summer’s edition of The Amazing Race.  Apparently, sending people around the world for entertainment purposes amid a potential global pandemic is a bad idea.  And although their contestants hadn’t been anywhere near Asia and nobody involved has shown any symptoms, producers are erring on an abundance of caution.

Good for them.  But what about all the other reality shows that are shot outside the presumed “safe” borders of the good ol' U.S. of A.?

If Discovery’s not careful, they could give new meaning to the Deadliest Catch.  Meanwhile, Bravo’s Below Deck is shot in the Caribbean, CBS’s Love Island was done in Spain, and ABC’s Bachelor in Paradise has been located outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  With these shows, the participants are already pretty well isolated from the rest of the world anyway.  So will they too fall to the fears of the networks?  And will participants be allowed to return stateside?

Fortunately for CBS and its advertisers, Survivor’s current anniversary edition, Winners at War, is not in jeopardy.  The network’s juggernaut was shot last May – long before the World Health Organization started announcing warnings and assessing the numbers.  But it could put a kibosh on next season.

As for The Bachelor franchise, ABC already has a “Plan B” in the works.  They’re trying at alternative way to expand its brand within the continental U.S. with a “Senior” edition.  That’s right, silver foxes and mature ladies across the 52 States are being courted to dip their toe in the TV dating pool.

One might wonder what kind of contestants “of a certain age” would want to put their dating life on television.  And furthermore, how producers are going to customize the show for them.

No offense, but I don’t think most viewers want to see the classic Bachelor/Bachelorette hot tub scenes re-enacted for the mature crowd.  (Then again, I didn’t want to see them the first time.)

And after a certain age, aren’t most singles too smart for the childish games and superficial interactions that are celebrated on this show?  Then again, perhaps the younger generation that usually inhabits the Bachelor house will learn something about honesty and communication from the senior set of contestants.   Or maybe not.

But it certainly seems that after working so hard to expand reality television beyond the shores of North America and make their shows a global event, producers are going to have to work twice as hard to pull back to the safety of our home and native land while still keeping viewers interested.  That’s a dramatic twist they probably didn’t see coming.

Suddenly, those cheap Canadian versions of The Bachelor and The Amazing Race with their smaller budgets and limited travel itineraries seem like a smart idea.