America's Next Top Model (ANTM) is one of many successful reality television series that has helped define the genre. ANTM first premiered in 2003 (only eight years ago), and yet the show just completed its 17th cycle, or season, on December 7, 2011. Yes, Tyra Banks has produced over two cycles of ANTM per year for the past eight years. This kind of success (measured solely by the number of seasons, not counting spin-offs) is almost unparalleled in the reality TV genre, even by shows like American Idol or The Bachelor. After 17 seasons, it seems like the series might begin to lose some of its popularity and fan base, but Tyra and the other producers of the show have found a some sort of magical formula that will continue to entertain fans for at least one more cycle.
Cycle 17 of ANTM is different from all of the other seasons because it is the “All-Star” cycle, meaning all of the participants were contestants from former seasons of the show. Bringing back former contestants is a risky decision for Tyra Banks, but ultimately I think her decision paid off. This cycle was clearly geared towards fans who have seen every cycle; in fact, the contestants are dubbed the “fan-favorites” from the other seasons. Bringing back former contestants means that fans immediately feel invested in the competition because they already “know” the participants, and the viewers do not feel like they have to spend the first three episodes of the season deciding for whom they want to root. However, bringing back previous contestants can alienate new viewers; the show introduces each contestant with brief flashbacks to their earlier time on the show, but there is still an expectation that the audience will recognize almost everyone. This is particularly an issue with contestants Shannon and Camille (from cycles 1 and 2, respectively) because they were on the show so long ago that it is very likely that many of the current fans of ANTM have not seen those seasons and therefore do not know who they are. Some of the audience may feel left out as a result, which can lead to lost viewership. On the other hand, this could also spur those members of the audience who do not recognize some former contestants to look them up and watch those cycles on their own time, which could actually increase viewership.
There is no way of knowing how the audience will react to bringing back former contestants, but the producers clearly decided that the potential benefits outweighed the potential negatives, and their calculated risk seems to have paid off. Cycle 17 was successful enough to lead to cycle 18, which is currently in the works, and Tyra Banks does not seem to be stopping there. I'm sure there will be many more seasons of America's Next Top Model in the coming years if the fans have anything to say about it.