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2017-01-25 11:25:10
Netflix and CBS Try to Shake Up Reality TV

On Sunday, CBS got the news it wanted for its new reality show, “Hunted.” With the aid of a muscular lead-in from an N.F.L. playoff game, the show had nearly 12 million viewers and the highest ratings for the premiere of a reality TV series since “The X-Factor” in 2011.

Now comes the hard part.

On Wednesday, CBS will give “Hunted” — in which two-person teams try to evade former law enforcement officials for 28 days for a $250,000 cash prize — a two-hour block. Its performance will go a long way in determining whether a show without singing, dancing or Simon Cowell can be a hit.

And CBS is not the only outlet trying to breathe new life into a sleepy genre.

Netflix is jumping into the reality game for the first time with an athletic competition show, “Ultimate Beastmaster,” that will debut next month.

In recent years, Netflix has invested in and tried to conquer every genre, including children’s programming, documentaries, stand-up specials, sitcoms and period dramas. Intuitively, the next place to turn was reality TV.

And in vintage Netflix form, “Ultimate Beastmaster,” which features an elaborate obstacle course and an international cast, has already been renewed for a second season before the first has even debuted.

But can either of these shows work?

Reality TV has traditionally been kind to stalwarts. “Survivor” has been on the air for 17 years and is still going strong, and “The Voice,” nearly six years old, is the highest rated of them all. “America’s Got Talent” has been around since 2006, and it got a big ratings bump last year when Mr. Cowell joined its cast of judges.

But newcomers? That has been much trickier. In the 2015-16 television season, “The Voice” was the only unscripted competition show among the top 10 programs on network television for adults under 50 years old, according to Nielsen. Between 2010 and 2013, there were regularly four or five reality shows in the top 10.

Cable networks like Bravo remain committed to reality TV, and they do just fine. With lower expectations for ratings and plenty of airtime to get people hooked with marathon viewings, the margin of error is bigger.

But for a network TV show like “Hunted,” the numbers have to be big — “Survivor” averages more than eight million viewers — and people have to watch it within three days of the original broadcast date if it is going to translate into real money.

Social experiment shows, which essentially bring together a group of people and place them in a contrived setup, like running away from law enforcement, have been difficult to introduce on network TV recently, especially since Fox flopped big time with its pricey 2014 show “Utopia.”

“Social experiment has been fallow for a few years due to pretty big and expensive failures,” said Mark Cronin, a veteran reality TV producer behind shows like “Below Deck” and “The Surreal Life.” “But I don’t think it’s due to the fault of the genre — if a hit can reappear, it can open up the door once again.”

CBS’s “Hunted” is an adaptation of a British show of the same name. There are essentially two teams: the so-called fugitives and the hunters. In pairs of two, the fugitives need to stay unrecognized for a 28-day stretch in a radius of 100,000 square miles that covers parts of South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

The hunters are a group of former officials from agencies such as the United States Marshals Service and the Central Intelligence Agency. They use social media, A.T.M. records and surveillance techniques to try to track the down the fugitives.

Network executives hope that the show’s central concept — tracking down fugitives — will appeal to its core audience, which adores CBS’s procedural dramas. And though female viewers represent a significant chunk of reality TV’s audience, drawing in young men would not hurt.

“It does really well in the U.K. with that elusive male 18-to-34-year-old audience,” Glenn Geller, the president of CBS Entertainment, said. By putting it on after the football game on Sunday, Mr. Geller said, he was hoping to “expose it to as many people as we can who may not always be watching CBS.”

Though the ratings numbers were big, early reviews were mixed. The website Reality Blurred called the premiere an “overly serious hour that overexplained everything yet withheld answers” about some basic rules of the game.

Netflix, as a subscription service, is not saddled with the same ratings pressure. But it has high hopes for “Ultimate Beastmaster,” which is produced by Sylvester Stallone and David Broome, an executive producer of “The Biggest Loser.”

Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer at Netflix, said the show is “our first big step” in reality shows, with many more to come.

Though Netflix denies that it has any interest in making a bid for live sporting rights, a show like “Beastmaster” may scratch at that itch.

Within a giant obstacle course — named “the beast” because it is laid out in the shape of, well, some sort of giant creature — competitors try to navigate muscle-straining activities to collect the most points possible. The beeps that are set off when a competitor hits a mark sound like a video game, which was quite intentional — producers for the show want it to feel like a “human video game,” Mr. Broome said.

Mr. Sarandos drew parallels to NBC’s athletic competition show “American Ninja Warrior,” which still draws good numbers, even when it is in repeats.

The show is “results oriented but something people will want to watch a year from now,” Mr. Sarandos said, adding “it’s more about the heart of the competitors and less about the ‘here’s who won, it’s over.’”

One of the big draws for Netflix was the international focus of “Beastmaster”: It will feature 108 competitors come from countries like Brazil, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the United States. They include ice climbers, military veterans and CrossFit enthusiasts.

Netflix, which depends on a global subscriber base, will provide each host country its own pair of broadcasters, which means that in Brazil, for example, the show will be broadcast in Portuguese. (In the United States, the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews and Fox Sports’s Charissa Thompson are the broadcasters).

Unlike most things Netflix, the show’s budget will not reach into outer space. Mr. Broome, the creator, said that it is “in line” with other reality shows. “We definitely didn’t break the bank by any stretch,” he said.

For Mr. Broome, the show is as much about shaking up the reality format with a new entrant that does not have a cast of singers and a jury appraising their every move.

“The genre needs to move forward,” he said. “It’s been a long time now of a lot of the same.”