T#e Singles Project premieres tonight on Bravo, obnoxious hashtag in the name and all. If you're feeling like you've seen this show before, trust us, it's not just you.
T#e Singles Project (which is really capriciously stylized, but for sheer hilarity we're sticking with the hashtag) is about as cookie-cutter as Bravo gets. Hot, metropolitan cast? Check. Gimmicks for days? Check. Promises of #drama? Absolutely check. This is Andy Cohen's network, after all.
But a quick examination of Bravo's recent programming slate reveals that their shows are even more similar than first imagined. In fact, program development seems to boil down to five simple steps.
Step 1: Pick out a show template.
Though Bravo has toyed with other formats in the past, particularly reality competitions (Project Runway, Top Chef) and celebreality shows (Being Bobby Brown, My Life on the D-List), the channel seems to have limited their development. Sure, there are programs built around one figure, but they're not a celebrity in their own right – and while the Top Chef brand is alive, there's little interest in creating new franchises.
No, Bravo is, for all intents and purposes, down to three templates. They are:
The One-Woman Show
A show centered around a single personality that examines their work or social life. The Out series is one of the progenitors – Work Out, Blow Out, and legacy Bravo show Flipping Out. Note that though this format is mostly dominated by women, there are some men who have shows built around them, like Brad Goreski's It's a Brad, Brad World.
The format took off as the preferred spin-off model after Real Housewives of New York City star Bethenny Frankel featured her wedding preparation on Bethenny Getting Married? Other examples include:
- The Millionaire Matchmaker
- The Rachel Zoe Project
- Tabatha Takes Over
- Don’t Be Tardy
- Jersey Belle
- Courtney Loves Dallas
- Pregnant in Heels
The Professional/Social Friends Series
A series about a group of friends or co-workers following their personal and professional dramas. The earliest examples of this were Miami Social, a failed show that was converted into the Real Housewives of Miami in its second season, and NYC Prep, a real-life Gossip Girl that still maintains a cult following. Unlike the One-Woman Show, these generally have no central protagonist – though you could argue Vanderpump Rules wouldn't work without its namesake Beverly Hills housewife, Lisa. Other examples include:
- 100 Days of Summer
- Below Deck
- Princesses: Long Island
- Gallery Girls
- Shahs of Sunset
The Real Housewives Clone
These are simply versions of the Real Housewives franchise with no connection to the flagship series and a particular gimmick. The most successful of these is Married to Medicine, a doctor-focused version of Real Housewives of Atlanta. Other examples include:
- Game of Crowns
- Ladies of London
T#e Singles Project is: The Professional/Social Friends Series, with emphasis on the social.
Step 2: Decide on major metropolitan location.
Blame it on the Real Housewives franchise: Most Bravo series default to the following four areas.
- New York City
- Los Angeles
If a show is gonna go off that set, they make sure the location is the very point of the show. Below Deck: all about that boat life. Ladies of London is basically English Real Housewives. Southern Charm is the very peak of dullness, but being in South Carolina makes it interesting! At least, it makes it “Bravo-interesting.”
T#e Singles Project is: Sticking to NYC. With such a gimmicky premise, they don’t need a distracting location. The team is smart to stick with what they know.
Step 3: Find a way to tie in with an existing Bravo property, if possible.
A lot of the One-Woman Shows branch off from other series, especially Real Housewives. This is less common with the Professional/Social Friends Series, but the most popular of them – Vanderpump Rules – is a Real Housewives spin-off. Unlike its spin-offs, Real Housewives clones don’t do this as much.
T#e Singles Project is: Actually not doing this, which is a bit of a risk. Shows with some sort of link to another series survive to season two far more often than not.
Step 4: Iron out the gimmick.
If the hook of a Bravo show isn't in the location or in a link to another Bravo show, it best be pretty appealing. Gallery Girls and Game of Crowns did their best to hook viewers with a specific slice of life, but neither has made it out of its first season. Shahs of Sunset was more successful thanks to the particular cultural experience it represented, while 100 Days of Summer never seemed to figure out what it wanted its gimmick to be.
T#e Singles Project is: Going social media crazy. Truth be told, there’s not much remarkable about a group of six dating in New York City. So the production team is betting on viewers wanting to interact with their cast through social media – hashtagged #TheFlirtProject, naturally. We’ll see how that goes for them.
Step 5: Hope for a great cast.
Funny enough, the least controllable element of the five is also the most important. Without a great cast, even the best shows can fall apart. They can't just be beautiful people – they have to gel together and have chemistry. Part of the reason recent Real Housewives seasons have been lackluster is the decreasing personal history between the women – nothing will likely ever match early Atlanta or the first season of New Jersey. So putting real effort into the casting process is key.
T#e Singles Project is: In a sticky spot here. Their cast is gorgeous, but many a failed Bravo show has had beautiful people in its ranks. (See: NYC Prep and Princesses: Long Island.) The problem is that the gimmick – asking viewers to not just tune in, but connect with their cast on social media – requires a supernaturally appealing cast. They can't just be good; they have to be fantastic. Whether they can be remains to be seen, but they've got an uphill climb.
The programs most similar to T#e Singles Project in Bravo's stable are 100 Days of Summer and Below Deck, and unsurprisingly, they also represent two distinctly different futures for the show. 100 Days didn't have much of a concept – successful friends in Chicago enjoy their summers! – and the ratings were pretty terrible. Meanwhile, Below Deck was something of a surprise hit, perhaps because its boat workers premise was so disparate from the rest of Bravo's lineup.
Judging from what we know about the show, T#e Singles Project is more of a 100 Days than a Below Deck, but that's with cast chemistry unseen. If there's some special magic to come, T#e Singles Project may stand a chance – stupid hashtag and all.