Watch CBSN Live

Brits On Reality TV's Cutting Edge

Ebenezer Scrooge received his bleak vision of an unreformed future from Marley's ghost.

American television viewers curious - or fearful - about reality programs that may be headed their way have the specter of current British television to ponder.

Is there a chance very British shows about housework, dinner parties and parachuting celebrities could end up as U.S. hits?

In the reality genre, overseas producers are the couturiers creating designs that American networks rush to knock off. There are homegrown efforts such as "The Bachelor," but "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "Survivor," "American Idol" and others have foreign roots.

And the creativity here is unchecked, with new shows emerging at a rapid pace.

"Everybody's predicting it's going to peak. So far, it hasn't," said Jessica Hodgson, a reporter covering television for the Evening Standard newspaper. "What's beginning to happen is that people are beginning to be a bit more selective in their choice of reality shows."

So what's popular in England now?

Not the saucy dating shows such as "For Love or Money" and "Cupid" inundating summer television in America.

Turns out the British are enamored with cleaning, not cleavage. The latest success is "How Clean is Your House?" in which two fastidious women pass judgment on domestic sanitation.

Magazine editor Aggie MacKensie is joined by Kim Woodburn, who works as a sheik's housekeeper and is tough as steel wool.

"I think people are just filthy buggers, actually," Woodburn said as she confronted a substandard homemaker. "I'm not a psychoanalyst. You're either clean or you're not. It's not a class issue."

She was quoted in a London newspaper, The Guardian, which brought the duo in to assess internal janitorial efforts (rating: dismal). Marveling at the show's success, the paper noted that the pursuit of shiny sinks makes "an unlikely spectator sport."

Hodgson concurs. "I just thought it would be too dowdy. It's actually been quite a bit of a surprise hit."

The program quickly earned a spot in the "Everyone's talking about" section of a cultural yardstick, Heat magazine. Dusting, at least in England, is a sexy subject.

Another audience-pleaser is "The Dinner Party Inspectors," featuring what Hodgson describes as "two posh, middle-aged women" who offer a running commentary while spying on social gatherings by closed-circuit television.

An upcoming program is "Drop the Celebrity," in which a planeload of moderately well-known people must relate convincing tales of their fame or risk being shoved out the door at 12,000 feet. A parachute is provided.

"Would you like to throw a celebrity out of a moving plane?" read a cheerful online solicitation for audience members.

It's a variation on "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" a show that qualified as a hit in Britain with an audience of 12 million to 14 million viewers.

A U.S. version didn't fare as well, and savvy reality TV producer Ben Silverman is convinced that "Drop the Celebrity" would take a belly flop in America.

"The Brits love a loser, and we don't embrace the 'B' celebrities they way they do," said Silverman. "They have a whole infrastructure of tabloids that celebrate 'B' celebrities ... We just don't care in America."

Julia Roberts and George Clooney on "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" would be a different story.

"America loves a winner," said Silverman, who knows about evaluating and tweaking programs for import. As former head of William Morris Agency's international packaging division, he brought shows including "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and
"Weakest Link" to America.

Silverman's producing a reality show for NBC, "The Restaurant," which debuts July 20 and follows the creation and operation of a Manhattan eatery. It's influenced by a British format, the "docusoap," which films real people in real settings.

"But they don't influence the environment as much as we do," Silverman said. "What we did is blow it up, give it scale, put it in the hottest city in the world, with the sexiest staff and cast."

That's reality TV, American style. Not a mop in sight.