You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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 There are new hosts this time around — previous Emmy winners Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn have been replaced by Karlie Kloss and former series winner Christian Siriano.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

  • Al Burton

    Al Burton, 'Jeffersons' and 'Diff’rent Strokes' Producer, Dies at 91

    Television producer and executive Al Burton, known for his work on “The Jeffersons” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” died Tuesday at his home in San Mateo, California. He was 91. Burton leaves behind a six-decade legacy of hit television shows that also included “One Day at a Time,” “Silver Spoons,” “Square Pegs” and “Facts of Life.” However, long [...]

  • Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal

    Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal at WarnerMedia

    Dwayne Wade is bouncing his way into WarnerMedia’s court. The retired NBA All Star has signed a multi-faceted, multi-year deal with the company, including a development deal via his 59th & Prairie Entertainment production banner. Part of the deal sees Wade sign on as a commentator at Turner Sports. He is set to make appearances [...]

  • Katie Couric Sheryl Sandberg

    Katie Couric Steamrolls Sheryl Sandberg in Roving Vanity Fair Summit Interview

    Sending a jolt through a luxurious and excessively polite afternoon in Beverly Hills, veteran journalist Katie Couric delivered a relentless series of hardball questions to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday. Speaking in conversation at the sixth annual Vanity Fair New Establishment summit at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Couric’s [...]

  • EVIL is a psychological mystery that

    CBS Renews 'Evil,' Orders Full Seasons of Four Other Freshman Shows

    CBS is doubling down on all its new shows. The network has renewed “Evil” for a second season, and handed out full-season orders to its other four freshman series, namely “All Rise,” “Carol’s Second Act,” “The Unicorn,” and “Bob Hearts Abishola.” “Evil” is set to conclude its 13-episode first season (creators Michelle and Robert King [...]

  • Jamie Lee Curtis

    Jamie Lee Curtis to Produce Military Drama With Put Pilot Order at Fox

    Jamie Lee Curtis is teaming up with April Fitzsimmons and Berlanti Productions for a drama project that has received a put pilot order at Fox. Titled “Chain of Command,” the one-hour project follows a young Air Force investigator with radical crime-solving methodology who returns to her hometown to join a military task force that doesn’t [...]

  • Michael MannLACMA: Art and Film Gala,

    TV News Roundup: Michael Mann to Direct and Executive Produce HBO Max's 'Tokyo Vice'

    In today’s TV news roundup, HBO Max names MIchael Mann as a director and executive producer of “Tokyo Vice” and Chip and Joanna Gaines announce the first original series coming to the couple’s Magnolia Network. DATES Netflix announced a six-episode docuseries centered on Nasty Cherry, the latest all-female group signed to Charli XCX’s label will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content