September 5, 2001. Two similar and equally exciting new series premiered and helped Americans live vicariously through these lucky game show contestants who get to travel the world in the hopes of winning a million dollars.
And considering the global adventure, the million bucks almost seems like an afterthought. Almost, of course.
But almost a week later, the world changed forever. September 11 changed everyone’s lives. The world became even bigger. And both CBS’ The Amazing Race and NBC’s Lost, shows that involved air travel and globetrotting just weren’t the kinds of shows most people were rushing to watch at the time.
But at the same time, for the small audiences that did manage to discover the new shows, they, especially The Amazing Race helped make the world that much smaller and closer to home. The world that seemed scary and unknown just a week or month ago was actually still beautiful and inspiring.
For The Amazing Race, 22 everyday Americans seeing and exploring the world. Phil Keoghan, a New Zealand-born TV personality, our guide. The viewers living vicariously through them all while enjoying the thrill and excitement of competition.
The Amazing Race was critically acclaimed. And its audience was loyal. Fans of the show loved getting to see the world even if it was just an hour every week from the couch.
But the rest of America didn’t exactly feel the same way. Ratings for the first three seasons of The Amazing Race were decent, but not great. Especially in comparison to CBS’ megahit Survivor.
After season 3 ended in December 2002, CBS decided to hold season 4 for Summer. TAR seemed to be on its last legs. Could or even should CBS continue footing the bill for such an expensive series when the size of the audience might not exactly justify it?
TAR4 premiered in May 2003. All indications were this would be the last TAR ever. But 2003 was also the year the Emmys introduced a brand new category for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. With the influx of reality shows and talent competitions, the Emmys decided to include this booming genre at the kudoscast.
The Amazing Race was, not surprisingly, one of the five nominees in the category. But its fellow nominees included more mainstream hits Suvivor andAmerican Idol as well as the annual AFI 100 list and a tribute to Bob Hope.
September. As TAR4 wrapped another successful season (and ratings-wise, relatively speaking), rumors began making the rounds. TAR was all but done. But executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer (who was enjoying huge success at CBS with the CSI franchise) made a plea to save the show. And not only that, but big stars, most notably Sarah Jessica Parker personally phoned CBS head honcho Les Moonves to pledge support for the show.
Then came Emmy night 2003. The inaugural Emmy for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. Even though the creative community looked down on the genre (and the Emmy telecast pretty much helped move along that point of view), there was no question the three nominated series exemplified the best and the elite of the crowded reality genre. They all deserved possible Emmy recognition.
And thankfully, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences believed the absolute best and most elite of the genre was… The Amazing Race.
The surprising, but universally welcomed result on Emmy night sealed the deal. The Amazing Race was still alive.
CBS ordered another season, production began January of the next year and TAR5 was set for a Summer 2004 premiere.
More and more people began discovering the show. CBS had originally set TAR6 for Saturdays at 8pm. But thanks to the excellent performance of TAR5 in the Summer (and the bombing of new drama series Clubhouse), CBS held off and decided to give TAR6 a comfy Tuesday at 9pm slot in November. TAR7 quickly followed in February and TAR finally was on a roll.
Though bumpy here and there and though still not as huge as its fellow reality elite, as the years passed, The Amazing Race continued churning out exhilarating television.
They kept dominating the Emmys as well, and deservedly so with so far, only one loss in eight tries.
What continues to make The Amazing Race good television? It is many things, all working hand in hand, not the least of which the incredible undertaking from the production crew who have to worry about logistics, planning and communication… in at least 12 international locations every season. Every other Emmy nominee in the category has the luxury of being contained in one stationary location, not to mention country.
The casting always plays a big part in any television series. Much of reality television relies on big personalities. The Amazing Race has had its fair share, but its best casting is when we have good, honest to goodness real American people. Not the aspiring models and actors playing up to the camera, but the people who legitimately appreciate their experience and respect the competition.
And speaking of, The Amazing Race is still at its core, a Race. People are competing for a chance at a million dollars. The teams are competitive and the challenges make for an exhilarating experience.
But maybe the biggest selling point of the series, its window to the world. Traveling to both well-known attractions and the untouched backroads, the series introduces us to cultures, people and history most of us would never come across otherwise.
The interactions with the locals, the eye-opening discoveries, the stunning visuals… Especially now in high definition, The Amazing Race may be one of the best travelogues on television.
Now at its 10th anniversary and nearing its milestone 20th season, The Amazing Race has shown signs of age. But by no means does that mean the series is going to go into retirement any time soon. The franchise continues to be popular both in America and around the world. Foreign, localized versions have begun popping up in Asia, Israel, Latin America, and Australia, all alongside the original mothership.
After ten years and seven consecutive Emmys, TAR continues to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. And while maybe TAR is in need of some sprucing up, there is no doubt it remains one of the very best hours on television.