11 Canceled Shows That Helped Shape Reality TV

By: Jennifer Walker-Journey  | 
The Real World
The 20-something cast of MTV's "The Real World" (l-r) Kevin Powell talking on phone as roomies Andre Comeau, Julie Oliver, Eric Nies, Heather Gardner, Norman Korpi and Becky Blasband form a conga line in their trendy SoHo loft. Mario Ruiz/Getty Images

When MTV launched "The Real World" in May 1992, the network unknowingly awakened the modern-day reality TV show movement. Now, more than 30 years since that first season aired, (yes, it's been that long!) there have been 33 seasons of "The Real World" and two spin-offs from the show, including "Road Rules" and "The Challenge," which is currently in its 38th season.

Today, it's impossible to scroll through any network or streaming service without finding a reality TV show on deck. And while some real-life TV dramas last decades, most have shorter shelf lives.

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Here are 11 of the more memorable reality TV shows that not only had good runs, but also left lasting impressions on our minds.

"Toddlers and Tiaras"

Toddlers and Tiaras
"Toddlers and Tiaras" showed a behind-the-scenes look at pageants, often shocking viewers and TV critics alike. Jessica Betulis/Discovery

Just one episode of TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras" is enough to show viewers the dark underbelly of youth pageant life. The show aired seven seasons from January 2009 to November 2016, (with a three-year gap between October 2013 and August 2016), amid a flurry of criticism.

Naysayers found the hair-waxed, spray-tanned, heavily make-upped toddlers and young girls with excruciatingly high up-dos gyrating onstage for the title of Ultimate Grand Supreme to be a bit too risqué. Their moms, however, disagreed, and claimed the stage experience boosted their children's self-confidence.

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More disturbing than the pageant participants' costumes were the pageant moms — and sometimes dads — who managed to set cringe-worthy examples of how NOT to act toward a competitor, regardless of their age.

"Here Comes Honey Boo Boo"

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
Alana Thompson (Honey Boo Boo) and her sister Anna Shannon-Cardwell (Chickadee) starred on "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" for several seasons. Chris Fraticelli/Discovery

Producers of "Toddlers and Tiaras" couldn't let the over-the-top personality of one small-town Georgia contestant get away without offering the girl her own show. Alana Thompson (Honey Boo Boo) was just 6 when TLC announced a six-part series spinoff, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."

The show lit up TV screens from August 2012 to August 2014 with the seemingly contrived shenanigans of Honey Boo Boo and her just-as-outlandish family members, including her parents June "Mama June" Shannon and Mike "Sugar Bear" Thompson and sisters Pumpkin, Chubbs and Chickadee.

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The Hollywood Reporter chief TV critic summed the series up this way: "At some point, awful is just awful instead of entertaining," and likened peoples' fascination with the show to a "car crash, and everybody rubber-necks at a car crash, right?"

In the end, TLC canceled "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" when it discovered that Mama June was dating a convicted child molester. Though that didn't stop WeTV from giving the family yet another show in April 2017. "Mama June: From Not to Hot" is now in its fifth season.

"Dance Moms"

Dance Moms
(Front row from left) Dancers Mackenzie Ziegler, JoJo Siwa, Maddie Ziegler, Kalani Hilliker, Kendall Vertes and Nia Frazier attend the Abby Lee Dance Company VIP Grand Opening in Los Angeles with dance instructor Abby Lee Miller (rear) in 2015. Vincent Sandoval/WireImage/Getty Images

Just how vicious can a mom be when her daughter gets passed up on a prime spot in a dance competition? Lifetime's reality series "Dance Moms," gave us a glimpse into the answer. The show, which aired from 2011 to 2019, featured Abby Lee Miller, owner of a dance studio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and her students, ages 6 to 16, as they trained and traveled to various dance competitions.

The show helped launch the careers of American actress and dancer Maddie Ziegler and pop sensation JoJo Siwa.

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But the biggest draw was the catfights that often sprang up among the mothers of the dancers and Miller herself. Much like "Toddlers and Tiaras," "Dance Moms" was often criticized for sexualizing little girls, especially after the "Topless Showgirls" episode aired in season 2 during which the dancers — ages 8 to 13 — appeared to perform sans tops! (Lifetime ultimately pulled the episode following plenty of viewer pushback.)

"What Not to Wear"

What Not to Wear
"What Not to Wear" Clinton Kelly (left) and Stacy London (second from left) successfully spearheaded nearly 350 makeovers during the shows' 10 seasons on air. TLC

Ahhhh, there's nothing like standing in the middle of a room full of mirrors in your favorite loungewear (that you wear everywhere) and being told how awful you look. But, apparently people were willing to endure the not-so-constructive criticism of stylists Stacy London and Clinton Kelly for a makeover and a new $5,000 wardrobe.

"What Not to Wear" premiered on TLC in January 2003, and hosts London and Kelly taught surprised participants how to dress to impress by emphasizing their assets and deemphasizing their defects. The result was a much more stylized and confident guest. The show ran for 10 seasons before it ended in fall 2013.

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During its time on air, the crew performed more than 345 makeovers to average folks as well as a few celebrities including game show host and "The Big Bang Theory" actress Mayim Bialik and "American Pie" star Shannon Elizabeth.

"My Strange Addiction"

My Strange Addiction
Jennifer's addiction to eating her foam mattress was just one of the strange stories portrayed on "My Strange Addiction." Discovery

There's something about watching other people's weird behaviors that makes you feel a little more "normal." Such was the case with "My Strange Addiction," a TLC show that premiered December 2010. The series showcased people with not-so-much addictions as bizarre personal fixations or daily rituals.

Featured characters included Jennifer, the foam-mattress-eating fanatic; Guerra, the guy obsessed with becoming Madonna; Haley, who spent hours a day pulling out her hair and nibbling on the follicles; and Tina and Mike, the husband-and-wife team obsessed with coffee enemas.

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Despite the show ending in February 2015, fans still ruminate about whether the people featured actually suffered from the so-called addictions they claimed to have, or if they just faked them for their 15 minutes of fame.

"19 Kids and Counting"

19 Kids and Counting
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's show started when they had 17 children, then progressed into "19 Kid and Counting" as their conservative Arkansas family expanded. Discovery

Who could have imagined that cranking out babies would become a multimillion-dollar empire? And who could have imagined the cringy end to it all?

The show "17 Kids and Counting" first aired on TLC in September 2008 and featured Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their then-17 kids growing up in Tontitown, Arkansas. With each new bundle of joy bestowed on the couple, the reality show's name changed, ultimately becoming "19 Kids and Counting." The hugely conservative Baptist couple passed on to their kids values of purity, modesty and faith in God, along with prudish "courtship" practices.

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In 2015, though, the show came to a screeching halt when Josh, the eldest Duggar child, publicly apologized for acting "inexcusably" after reports surfaced that he had fondled five girls, including some of his sisters, years earlier. Not wanting to lose the cash cow that "19 Kids and Counting" had become, TLC quickly released a spin-off, "Counting On," about the eldest daughters Jill and Jessa's forays into motherhood.

However, Josh's actions also led to the demise of that show in 2021, when he was arrested on federal charges of receiving and possessing child pornography. He is currently serving a 151-month prison term.

"My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding"

My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding
Kandace (in blue) and Kayla (in pink) were Romanichal sisters whose flamboyant double wedding was highlighted on the show in season 3. Discovery

"My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding" first aired on TLC in April 2012, highlighting the baptisms, birthdays and wild weddings of Romani Americans (derogatorily referred to as gypsies). Families on the show were all members of the Romanichal clans, or presented themselves as such.

The show featured big dresses (one was so big the bride had to be carried on the back of a flatbed truck) and even bigger drama from an ever-changing love triangle to the numerous wedding-day brawls.

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The show was a spin-off of "Britain's Big Fat Gypsy Weddings" reality series, which was heavily criticized for being "wildly misleading" about the Romani culture and cultivating racist stereotypes. The show aired for six seasons and ended in December 2018.

Ahead of the American release, the online editor of The New Republic wrote, "(B)ecause this misleading, incomplete show will likely be many Americans' only exposure to Travellers and Roma in Europe, it will lead to a deep misunderstanding of who these people are. If Twitter is any indicator, it will continue to draw adjectives like 'odd' and 'insane,' as well as countless comparisons to 'Jersey Shore.'"

"Jersey Shore"

Jersey Shore
"Jersey Shore" cast members (from left) Jenni Farley, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, Angelina Pivarnick, Pauly D, Nicole Polizzi, Vinny Guadagnino, Sammi Giancola and Mike Sorrentino attend the 2010 MTV Movie Awards in Universal City, California. Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Wait, what? "Jersey Shore" was considered offensive? This reality show gem from MTV aired from 2009 to 2012 and peered into the antics of eight 20-somethings living together in a vacation home in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on the Jersey Shore (though one season was filmed in South Beach, Florida, and another in Florence, Italy).

The crew, including Pauly D, Snooki, Mike "The Situation" and JWoww, spent most of that time drinking and partying, which led to some rather ferocious brawls and bawdy behavior. This helped earn "Jersey Shore" its pop culture status.

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But the show also was the subject of much controversy for its portrayal of Italian Americans and participants' liberal use of the terms "guido" and "guidette." While not all characters identified with a particular ethnic or racial group, critics said the show cast a negative shadow on the Italian American culture as a whole. Some Italian groups even called on MTV to pull the show.

"Jersey Shore" ultimate met its demise in December 2012. But in 2018, MTV launched a spinoff titled "Jersey Shore: Family Vacation" where members of the cast reunite to live together and vacation in Miami. It's currently on its fifth season.

"My Super Sweet 16"

My Super Sweet 16
A-list stars, including Jermaine Dupri (second from left) and rapper Jibbs (second from right) attended Maestro Harrell's (center) Super Sweet 16 bash hosted by So So Def and MTV Aug. 12, 2007 in Chicago. Barry Brecheisen/WireImage/Getty Images

What could be more fascinating than watching spoiled rich kids as they plan a grossly opulent coming-of-age party for themselves? Watching the same spoiled rich kids throw monster temper tantrums when their mothers "ruin" their parties by buying them a brand-new Lexus SC430 or a Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Convertible.

MTV gave us that gift with its "My Super Sweet 16" reality series, which featured the planning, plotting and prepping for over-the-top sweet 16s quinceañeras and other wild teenage birthday celebrations.

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According to some reviewers, tears, tantrums, crazy party planners, parental put-downs and budget-busting details were the norm for the teen stars of this reality show gem. The show had a long run from January 2005 to September 2017. No surprise there. It was hard to look away.

"Supernanny"

Supernanny
"Supernanny" Jo Frost was known for helping families deal with all kinds of issues and parenting challenges. Lifetime

"Supernanny" Jo Frost was telling parents how to raise their children in the U.K. before the show aired in the U.S. Frost traveled to the homes of parents struggling with every aspect of child-rearing, from potty training and temper tantrums to parental disrespect.

Dubbed a modern day Mary Poppins, Frost would observe parents interacting with their children before providing recommendations on how the family could work to resolve the issues. Frost then crossed the pond in 2005 for an American adaptation of the show, which aired on ABC through 2011 and was later picked up by Lifetime nearly a decade later for a one-season stint in 2020. The show tackled everything from abusive parents and alcoholism to bullying siblings and the loss of a parent.

"The Simple Life"

Simple Life
Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie tried to show how rich girls like them could be just like everybody else in "The Simple Life." Simple Life

Don't we all love watching filthy-rich girls thrown into doing manual, low-paying jobs so they can look hilariously stupid? Apparently so, because from 2003 to 2007, viewers gobbled up episodes of "The Simple Life" to watch socialites Paris Hilton, heir to the Hilton Hotel fortune, and Nicole Richie, daughter of singing legend Lionel Richie, clean houses, serve fast-food meals, work as farm hands and live without their usual comforts of home.

Hilton and Richie excelled at playing dumb about what most of us would find just normal, everyday living. But, as one reviewer summed it up ahead of the first season's debut, "Hilton and Richie display random acts of ignorance and insularity that rarely cease to amaze, even in our post-Jessica Simpson era, only here the heaping portions of dumb deliver far more entertainment."

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