×

From ‘The Masked Singer’ to ‘Project Runway,’ Unscripted Series Pull Out All Stops to Make a Splash

The growth of American unscripted television shows no signs of slowing down, with imported formats such as Fox’s “The Masked Singer” and re-energized long-standing staples such as Bravo’s “Project Runway,” competing with stalwart series (think “The Amazing Race,” “Top Chef” and “The Voice”) for ratings and awards glory. With so many shows in the race, competition for the few spots on the Emmy ballot has become that much more cutthroat.

“This is our first year on air with Fox and I hope we break through the clutter of all of these existing franchises. It’s just hard to do that,” says “The Masked Singer” executive producer Craig Plestis.

The show relied on mystery over big-name draws, as celebrities hid behind giant masks as they performed popular music numbers. It was a ratings and social-media sensation in its debut season. The series premiere at the beginning of January drew more than 9 million total live viewers, and that number increased to almost 11.5 million total live viewers for the finale episode less than two months later. The buzz around guessing what celebrities were taking part in the singing competition was constant, as was the discussion over the elaborate costumes they donned.

“The one thing I think we have going for us is we’re fresh and different and slightly bizarre,” says Plestis. “I think that’s our calling card. We’re not safe TV in any which way, and I think that might help us more than other traditional shows.”

Meanwhile, longtime nominee “Project Runway” is back in the race in a slightly new way: The flagship fashion design competition series returned to Bravo after a nine-year run on Lifetime. There are new hosts this time around — previous Emmy winners Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn have been replaced by Karlie Kloss and former series winner Christian Siriano. The format has also been given a facelift to speak to the more modern times.

“It really is more the democratization of fashion because of all the different platforms,” says executive producer Jane Lipsitz. “Entrepreneurial designers were able to distribute their fashion and designs on multiple platforms, through Instagram and flash sales. When we first produced ‘Runway,’ that really wasn’t an option. It was much more focused in terms of the path to success.”

And because of both new technology and an increasing number of similar series all vying for the same audience attention, some productions have felt the need to get more creative in the way they present even the most familiar elements of a series, from testimonials to judges’ critiques. In the case of “Project Runway,” Lipsitz notes, it was important to make the 17th season “feel more cinematic,” as well as “grounded and authentic in the real world.

“Fashion is beautiful, and the show should look beautiful,” she says. “That was a really simple principle that we built the new look of the show around.”

However, for other series, such as “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which won the competition program statue last year, staying true to the principles with which it launched is more important than new trends or spectacles.

“I just love that we’re able to tell human stories and bring people together,” says “Drag Race” executive producer Tom Campbell.

The 11th season of the VH1 drag queen series expanded its inclusive storytelling by featuring the show’s first Muslim contestant, Mercedes Iman Diamond, as well as Yvie Oddly, who lives with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

“It’s really about a very human experience, and people overcoming their past and finding their tribe, and expressing themselves in a work of art. I think that’s pretty remarkable to everybody who watches.”

More TV

  • ‘Big Brother’ Set for German Comeback

    ‘Big Brother’ Set for German Comeback on Sat.1

    “Big Brother” is returning to German screens after a five-year break. Sat.1 will air the German version of the show, which will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Endemol format that paved the way for a raft of other unscripted shows around the world. Sat.1 said it would also run a celebrity version of [...]

  • ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Gets

    ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Gets Reboot by PBS, Viacom’s Channel 5

    A new adaptation of “All Creatures Great and Small” is in the works for Viacom’s Channel 5 in the U.K. and Masterpiece on PBS in the U.S. The source books by James Herriot, about country veterinarians in 1930s rural England, were made into a much-loved 1978-90 British series that ran to 90 episodes, which also [...]

  • THE F WORD WITH GORDON RAMSAY:

    Viacom Adds Pluto TV Drama, Food, and Movies to Channel 5’s On-Demand Service

    Viacom is adding a trio of channels from its recently-acquired Pluto TV to My5, the on-demand service of Channel 5, the U.K. free-to-air broadcaster it also owns. Ad-supported OTT service Pluto TV is already available in the U.K., but the My5 deal widens its distribution. It also bulks up My5 at a time when traditional [...]

  • Whoopi Goldberg addresses the crowd while

    Inside World Pride's Opening Ceremony: An LGBTQ Celebration With a Tinge of Politics

    World Pride officially kicked off on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. About 8,000 people packed into the arena for a three-hour show that began with Cyndi Lauper singing her hit “True Colors.” The performance ended with a gaggle of dancing drag queens who pranced alongside Lauper as she turned the train of [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth

    The Messy NBC Democratic Debate Proves the Need for a Tier System (Column)

    The opening night of the first debates of the 2020 Democratic Party primaries brought — even by the standards of such way-far-out confrontations between candidates for whom the election remains a far-off dream — vastly more empty drama than new information. But then, that may have been by design. NBC News’s organization of the debates, [...]

  • Max Wright Dead

    'Alf' Actor Max Wright Dies at 75

    Max Wright, best known for playing patriarch Willie Tanner on the sitcom “Alf,” died Wednesday. He was 75. Wright’s family confirmed his death to TMZ. The actor died in his home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., after years of battling cancer. Wright was diagnosed with Lymphona in 1995. Wright is most famous for his role as [...]

  • Greyson Chance -Gabby Barrett Alejandro Aranda

    Greyson Chance, 'Idol' Alums Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda Sign Major Label Deals

    Two “American Idol” alumni — Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda — as well as viral star Greyson Chance all announced new major label recording contracts this week. Barrett, who finished in third place of the first season of the rebooted ABC version of “Idol,” has joined the roster of Warner Music Nashville. The singer had [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content