Reality TV takes an experimental turn

LEFT ALONE FOR A YEAR:  Fights even break out in Utopia.
LEFT ALONE FOR A YEAR: Fights even break out in Utopia.

Always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing, television broadcasters in America are turning to ''social experiments'' for the next generation of reality television series.

Programs which offer contestants - and viewers - more than the traditional challenge and the traditional prize are being pushed into production and developed as broadcasters try to find the newest genre to catch attention.

The Hollywood Reporter has noted multiple shows trying for top spot in the new field, with the front-runners so far:

1. Utopia: a reality series where the 15 participants are taken to a remote spot and left alone for up to a year - as if the rest of the world had ended - to create their rules, their own way of life, and hopefully their own perfect society. They will have rudimentary shelter and supplies, what they make of it is up to them.

2. Famous in 12: A (reasonably) average American family has been selected from more than 10,000 applicants to be made famous, for whatever reason the producers can imagine, in just 12 weeks. The idea is to recreate the buzz of a Kardashian-style clan out of absolute nobodies, with cameras following every member for every minute of the 12 weeks to see how they cope.

3. Survival Live: Survivor meets The Hunger Games as contestants are dropped into a wilderness area with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and biometric monitors to update viewers on their health. As cameras follow, they will attempt to survive, relying on viewer votes to win them basics including food, water, medicine and shelter.

4. Married At First Sight: Based on a Danish format, six people are paired up and legally married at their first meeting, then sent off to live as husband and wife. Cameras will follow as they try to learn how to be a couple, discover if they really are compatible or should - at the series finale - divorce.

5. Also in the mix is a series following the real-life astronauts who have volunteered for a one-way trip to Mars, with the audience able to watch from selection, through training and launch to (we can only assume) their inevitable death. This is, after all, a one-way trip to Mars.

Produced by Endemol-owned Darlow Smithson Productions, the joint production with Mars One has the potential to be the longest-running of the proposals, with production expected to begin in 2015, as evaluations of would-be Mars migrants begins, with the blast-off tentatively scheduled for 2025 and the flight itself estimated to take seven months.