Old and new celebs claim fame with a dose of reality

“Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” may have been trying to bring in new viewers with repeats, but the real surprise of the summer television season was the popularity of a string of new reality series. From rocker Tommy Lee attending college to wannabe dancers, reality shows covered just about everything you could imagine.

The reason why so many people tuned in this summer remains a mystery. Stations usually play nothing but reruns and movies all summer, so it was a surprise when all the networks began announcing their schedules.

Although “Tommy Lee Goes to College” didn’t premiere until mid-August, NBC started promoting it back in May. It showed hilarious clips of the Motley Cr?e drummer picking a roommate, going to class and even auditioning for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln Marching Band. After watching the commercials for a few months, quite a few viewers were ready to check out the actual show.

While you can’t take it too seriously, “Tommy Lee Goes to College” delivers some laughs and you’d be wrong to expect much else. But seriously, did you ever expect to see the hard rocker in a marching band uniform or sitting through a chemistry class? Your answer is probably no, and the fish out of water routine is exactly what has made Tommy Lee reality’s newest star.

It’s a possibility that Tommy Lee wouldn’t have seen such success if the summer’s first new reality show hadn’t been such a hit. When commercials first started airing for “Dancing with the Stars,” it looked like nothing more than D-list celebrities trying to milk their tiny last bit of fame. And that’s exactly what it was.

Good thing that was what audiences wanted to see. Viewers tuned in week after week to watch celebrities like John O’Hurley, who played J. Peterman on “Seinfeld,” Kelly Monaco of “General Hospital” fame and Joey McIntyre, a former New Kid on the Block, strut their stuff on the dance floor.

The celebrity dancers were paired up with professionals, which gave the show a tiny bit of credibility. But more importantly, “Dancing with the Stars” was a fun show to watch and that’s probably what drew in so many people. From watching the eventual winner Monaco hold up her dress during half a routine to witnessing boxer Evander Holyfield doing a jive, viewers never knew what to expect.

“Dancing with the Stars” proved to be so successful that it will be holding a dance-off between Monaco and runner-up O’Hurley in September. It may not draw in quite as many viewers as the summer episodes did, but it shows the extent of the show’s popularity.

ABC’s hit show also opened the door for dance shows on other networks. FOX created “So You Think You Can Dance,” which, besides the horrible title, isn’t so bad either. The show was created by the same people behind “American Idol,” so it follows that same auditions, eliminations and performances format that the country is already used to.

Even though the audition process seemed to drag on, the show is continuing into the fall and picking up speed with its 14 remaining finalists. They are paired up every week and must perform whatever dance they happen to draw.

The thing that makes “So You Think You Can Dance” different than “Dancing with the Stars,” is that the contestants are real people trying to have a career in professional dance. On top of that, while the show does feature ballroom styles, it also exposes audiences to more contemporary styles like hip-hop and lyrical dance.

There were plenty of other reality shows out there this summer. Troubled children solved their issues on “Brat Camp,” smart students vied for full scholarships on “The Scholar” and Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston showed just how trashy they are on “Being Bobby Brown.”

See? Maybe it’s shows like those that made Tommy Lee and dancing seem not so bad.