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The Baltimore Sun

Ask the Critic: Paul Brownfield

Question: What do you see as the main reason for the ratings resurgence of scripted shows such as "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" over once-invincible reality programming?

Brownfield: I'm not sure I see the success of ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and, to a lesser extent, "Lost" as proof that scripted shows are trumping reality series, particularly among younger viewers. Don't forget, "Survivor" is still going strong at CBS, a new installment of "American Idol" is coming back next month on Fox and more reality series are being rolled off the assembly lines.

True, NBC saw "The Apprentice" go from 28 million viewers overall for the May finale down to 17 million for the December finale. I would say simply that scripted drama, done well, always bubbles to the surface because it has real acting in it, as opposed to the amateurs on reality shows, and crafted story lines, as opposed to the often-contrived ones of reality.

So here we have two shows with involved plots and subplots as well as characters people want to follow week to week. "Housewives" works because it has all the elements — sex, intrigue, comedy — of TV, packaged in a clever way. "Lost" is like "Survivor," only darker, and again, with real actors and storytelling.

And this doesn't even touch the success of procedural crime shows right now, namely CBS' three "CSI" series. The business of reality TV (episodes don't repeat well, so the shows have a harder time making it into syndication) is a creative issue too; people might be recognizing the gimmickry of the formats and are demanding a new model. Stay tuned.

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