I had the honor this week of being on Sirius 98's 'The Fight Show' with host Mauro Ranallo as part of the Insider segment. Ranallo and I talked about the current season of Spike TV's 'The Ultimate Fighter', evaluated the performance as a coach of Brock Lesnar (hint: I think he's generally done well), why UFC or MMA fan enthusiasm is low for the show and what possible solutions are available as a fix.
One of the issues I homed in on was that the format of the show itself is still workable. Season 10 with coaches Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans, along with cast member Kimbo Slice, was a bit of an outlier. However, if the format is broken the ratings would've reflected that. It's hard to tell if they could've been higher with changes, but whatever the issue, they also set all-time records for viewership. In other words, if you can get talent the fans care about and coaches the fans want to see fight (and squabble) the format can still deliver while being limited. Jordan Breen makes a similar point in a recent interview:
I think we're approaching a point for TUF where tweaks have to be quality-related as opposed to structure-related. It's hard to imagine how many more "You have to fight to get in the house!"-style twists can be invoked to make people care. We know now that if people aren't going to care about the coaches, they have to care about some people in the house. Unfortunately, there's an entirely different segment of the population who don't want to watch any more Junie Brownings.
So, the best thing they can do is to actually try to put decent fighters on the show with coaches people care about. However, the reality, is that TUF is now used to find diamonds in the rough, not can't miss prospects. Can't miss prospects just end up in the UFC; TUF is now about the Amir Sadollahs of the world.
We've seen in the TV market on the whole, reality TV shows that continue to exist are able to do so on the back of brand value, and that ingenuity tends to fall by the way side after a while. This is likely where we're headed with TUF. MMA fans will ensure there's a decent basement number for TUF even if the ratings aren't spectacular, good enough for it to keep going. However, it's unlikely to be something that unites MMA fans ever again.
Anyway, listen to the whole thing. Provide feedback, as always, if you disagree.