The Real World (MTV)
Age: 20 years / 27 cycles. The longest-running docu-soap on TV.
Senior Power: The Real World established a format so compelling that it’s survived two decades on a network that thrives on changing programming like its young audience changes outfits. What’s Jersey Shore and the upcoming Buckwild — or Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, for that matter — but variations on The Real World? Ratings dropped this year and the show’s numbers aren’t huge anymore (averaging around 2 million), yet the reality veteran has still been considered a success in recent years.
Survival Secret: So simple: Gather horny outgoing young people and watch them fight and hook up. Ta-da. A new cast each cycle keeps things fresh. Though often dismissed as tawdry, The Real World deserves credit for showing debates about social issues and embracing diversity from its very first season (how many other shows had an openly gay cast member in 1992?).
Life Expectancy: For awhile there, MTV couldn’t get enough Real World. The network ran it twice a year and, in 2009, literally ordered four seasons at once — like it was buying the show in bulk from Costco. That was before Shore changed the game with its culture-specific format. MTV ran Real World once this year and is currently committed to one more edition, which will air in the spring. Sources say renewal talks are currently progressing and the series will likely get another pickup.