It wasn’t so long ago that the world proclaimed Netflix the new leader in reality television. In early 2020, two years after Queer Eye became a global sensation, the streamer beefed up its relatively limited reality TV slate with The Circle, Love Is Blind, and Too Hot to Handle, each of which offered a fresh take on the competition and dating show genres. With their high-concept premises and weekly release schedules (an unconventional move for the platform that invented the binge model), these shows were instantly popular with viewers, and Netflix quickly set about making more of these relatively low-budget series.
Nearly three years later, Netflix has yet to let up — and with executives looking to cut costs, it seems unlikely that this unscripted push will end any time soon. But as viewers begin to collapse under the weight of another season of Love Is Blind or Selling Sunset, top brass would be wise to pump the brakes and give fans enough time to actually miss these shows when they’re not airing.
Nowhere is Netflix’s reality TV overindulgence more apparent than in the case of Selling Sunset, which has released five seasons in a three-year span and is currently in production on Seasons 6 and 7. The core Selling Sunset cast has largely remained the same since 2019, but unfortunately, so has its conflict, and recent seasons have seen the ladies rehash the same disputes again and again. By the time Season 5 debuted in April 2022, viewers (and boss Jason Oppenheim, it seems) had little patience for self-proclaimed villain Christine Quinn and her many lies, which became more blatant with every passing episode.
The biannual release of Selling Sunset would make sense if Netflix was looking to capitalize on the cast’s personal dramas — like Chrishell Stause’s headline-making divorce from This Is Us star Justin Hartley, or Heather Rae Young’s wedding to Flip or Flop’s Tarek El Moussa — by dropping episodes shortly after these real-world events. But that has hardly been the case, as filming typically takes place six to nine months before each season’s release, by which point fans have long since moved on. While these storylines do offer a bit of freshness, on the whole, every season of Selling Sunset now feels the same as the last, contributing to the sense that we’re being buried under an endless stream of content. If viewers had more time away from Christine, her schtick wouldn’t feel quite so tired — or at the very least, maybe it would’ve given her an opportunity to come up with less verifiable falsehoods.
Love Is Blind is also a victim of Netflix bloat. What started as an inventive, if slightly bizarre, dating concept has now spawned three seasons (with two more on the way), two international adaptations, and follow-up series After the Altar. At this point, keeping up with Love Is Blind is a full-time job, one that’s made even more daunting by the third season’s hour-long runtimes and unnecessarily long dramatic pauses (the best way to watch this show is on 1.25x speed). Yes, the pod-induced theatrics remain entertaining, but with viewers still invested in the fate of last season’s stars — most of whom just graced our screens in mid-September in After the Altar Season 2 — it’s difficult to get excited about starting the process anew.
It’s worth noting that Netflix is by no means the only streaming service or network overwhelming viewers with content. The Bachelor franchise dominates ABC’s schedule in the winter, summer, and fall, with each iteration (The Bachelor, Bachelorette, and Paradise) running anywhere from two to three months. Below Deck airs year-round on Bravo, where a season of Sailing Yacht runs right into a new installment of Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the franchise is expanding with a new Adventure spinoff, and filming on Season 2 of Peacock’s Below Deck Down Under has wrapped. Still, The Bachelor and Below Deck are spread out over months, and even though Netflix has experimented with its release schedule, dropping 10 or 12 episodes across a three-week span is more likely to lead to burnout than rolling out one per week.
Comparing Netflix’s output to that of other networks is also apples to oranges: For every Below Deck spinoff released over the past three years (three, to be exact), Netflix has debuted dozens of reality shows, many of which are in advanced seasons. Social media competition The Circle is expected to air its fifth season this fall (and its second installment this year), while Too Hot to Handle will return for Season 4 in the months ahead. The Ultimatum, which sees couples on the verge of marriage explore a commitment with someone else, is expanding with a Queer Love season composed of women and non-binary people. And who could forget Squid Game: The Challenge, a dystopian competition series with a $4.56 million cash prize, the largest in reality TV history?
These reality shows range from exciting (The Ultimatum: Queer Love) to needless (recent dud Dated & Related comes to mind), but no matter where they fall along that spectrum, one thing is certain: There’s too damn many of them. Netflix subscribers are being inundated with unscripted programming every week, cheapening these once-beloved shows and reducing their impact. This isn’t to say that Netflix should stop making reality television, but that it should limit its output to ensure viewers are able to enjoy each season, rather than watch out of obligation. After all, if you’re a Netflix exec, the only thing cheaper than producing reality television is producing less of it.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.