Usually, the more outrageous the show, the higher the viewership — and this weekly program on America's Bravo cable/satellite channel is no exception. Shahs of Sunset has seen ratings rise a dramatic 37% since its debut in mid-March. The notoriety has caused some controversy, but that may just bring more viewers to the show.
A governing city council in the adjacent town of West Hollywood petitioned the network to stop "perpetuating negative stereotypes about Iranian-Americans," echoed by some Iranian-Americans concerned about the impression the cast portrays of the community.
The criticism is reminiscent of the objections to MTV's extremely popular Jersey Shore and the raunchy cast's depiction of Italian-Americans.
Bravo launched the successful "Housewives" franchise, with women in places from Orange County to Atlanta and Hollywood entertaining television households with the banal problems of the rich.
The underlying conflict on episodes of Shahs of Sunset centres on pressures from family members to get married and follow a more traditional life on a group of singles who love to party and buy expensive clothing.
"We wanted to present an exciting group of friends who live interesting and dynamic lives as well as give an inside look at their culture and rituals," said the Bravo Network about Shahs of Sunset, according to the AFP.
The six friends include Muslims, Jews and a gay man and is set on the west side of LA in an area referred to as "Tehrangeles," where 20% of residents are of Iranian descent, encompassing parts of nearby Westwood, called "Little Persia."
Sammy, Reza, Mike and MJ work in the real estate market with the palatial mansions of Beverly Hills, while Asa is a "modern gypsy bohemian" singer/artist and GG is a "Persian princess," living at home, shopping and dating.
The "Shahs" may turn into the Persian version of the Kardashians, replacing the Armenian family's series as the go-to show. It appears the interest in the show is primarily in the lavish lifestyles and image, flashy personalities and tapping into the excesses found on most reality shows.
By comparison, the image projected on All-American Muslim was about the conflicts and customs of five middle-class Arab-American families in Dearborn, Michigan, a community with the highest concentration of Muslims in the US and home to the largest mosque in the country.
This 2011 reality show followed a football coach, sheriff, automotive worker and judicial executive, with beliefs ranging from conservative to liberal. Episodes dealt with the struggles of assimilation, adjustments to life in and outside the community, and prejudice encountered since 9/11.
Critically acclaimed, the show debuted with one million viewers but was short-lived, ending after the first season when an advertiser dropped out under pressure from a campaign by Christian bloggers. According to the TLC cable/satellite network, the decline in ratings was the reason for cancelation.
More like a documentary series, All-American Muslim sparked controversy about Arab-Americans living normal lives in the US, whereas Shahs of Sunset depicts the lives of the rich and not-so-famous, more typical of reality shows.
Shahs of Sunset: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy_VoBqLTis
All-American Muslim: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0E7-9e6GPM
Shahs of Sunset: http://www.bravotv.com/shahs-of-sunset
All American Muslim: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/all-american-muslim