After years of putting out the same old, same old, the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter has been quite the revelation.
It's not new, but it feels new all the same. It feels fresh. It's different, even though it isn't.
The fans have taken notice. After two seasons of less-than-great ratings on FX, the show is once again pulling in over one million viewers on a weekly basis.
And I have to say, I think the good ratings will continue all season long. In the following slides, I'll tell you why.
Over the course of 16 seasons, The Ultimate Fighter was filmed like a reality show.
For those of you who don't know all that much about film, here's an explanation: The cameras shot the action at 30 frames per second, giving it the same look as every other reality show in the world. The interviews, the fights and the action in the house, it was all the same, season after season. The only things different in each season were the fighters, the coaches and the house.
This season, the production crew went with 24 frames per second, the same rate used to film movies and most non-reality television shows. It makes The Ultimate Fighter feel more like the much-heralded UFC Primetime series, which is a huge step up in terms of quality.
Not only that, but there are new, smaller features. The interviews are shot using a ring light, which you can see reflected in the fighter's eyes. Only it's not a ring light; a production team member told me that it's actually an Octagon light that was specially constructed for this show.
Overall, the production quality is much higher than in seasons past. And while that alone won't keep viewers tuning in, it certainly doesn't hurt to put your best-looking product in front of them.
When Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen were announced as the newest coaches for The Ultimate Fighter, many expected fireworks.
I sure did. I thought Sonnen would be in full pro-wrestling mode, doing his best schtick in an attempt to rile Jones up and build pay-per-view buys.
Instead, we got something completely different. Sonnen has kept the focus of the show fully on the fighters and has consistently stressed how tough winning the TUF tournament actually is. On top of that, he's dropped all of his usual gimmicks and, as a result, has been one of the best coaches in the history of the show.
Jones has also done a great job in gathering his team and attempting to create team unity. While he hasn't had the same results as a coach as Sonnen, he's still demonstrating an ability to teach fighters who are attempting to get into the UFC.
Sure, it isn't what we expected. But that's OK, because Jones and Sonnen may attract more dedicated viewers with the way they're currently behaving.
In previous seasons, The Ultimate Fighter seemed to focus more on the hijinks in the house and the often-contrived personal conflicts between cast members and coaches than on the fights themselves.
That's partially due to the quality of talent on the show, frankly, not being all that great. Fans tuned in to see the action and saw guys who often had less than five professional fights on their record, and so the show highlighted nonsense outside of the cage as a way to compensate for the lack of skilled fighters in the cage.
That's not the case this season. From top to bottom, this is a cast mostly filled with seasoned, experienced fighters, and even casual observers can see the difference in the cage.
Sure, we don't see many pranks in the house, and we don't see the coaches artificially building up a pay-per-view fight. But what we're getting is much better: Fighters who are actually talented competing in a very tough tournament in order to achieve their dreams of being in the UFC.
If you ask me, it's a breath of fresh air.
It may seem silly to think that fans will continue to tune into The Ultimate Fighter simply because they saw Uriah Hall's devastating knockout of Adam Cella last week.
But Hall's kick created a ton of water-cooler talk. Friends of mine who I'd generously label "casual viewers" contacted me in droves the next day, seeking conversation about the knockout. They wanted to know more about Hall. They wanted to know who, out of every fighter in the house, had the best chance of beating him.
I know just enough about TV ratings to cover them as part of my MMA beat, but I'll make a prediction right here: More viewers will tune into this week's episode of the show, and it'll be a result of them hearing about the Hall knockout.
Of all the changes I've mentioned in previous slides, it's clear that the biggest reason for more viewers tuning into the show this season has been the move from Friday to Tuesday nights.
Let's face it: Nobody wants to stay home and watch TV on Friday nights. Well, most people don't, anyway. It's a bad night for television, and it was a bad night for The Ultimate Fighter.
Moving the show to Tuesday nights, and pairing it with the hit series Justified, has been the biggest reason that folks are tuning in.