The network, which is embarking into the unknown in the aftermath of the Disney merger, has doubled down on the show, handing it a third season renewal before season 2 even begins, as well as the much coveted post Super Bowl spot in 2020 to launch its third outing (not to mention several nods during Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards).
But the big question going into Wednesday night’s Season 2 premiere is less who’s behind the mask, and more can “The Masked Singer” keep up the hype? After all, the show is all about flashy costumes, big reveals and sparkly performances. Fox is sincerely hoping its success isn’t just a flash in the pan.
After the first season premiered to spectacular numbers – a 3.0 rating and almost 10 million total viewers – the internal conversations at Fox immediately pivoted to “how do we keep this up,” says Fox alternative-programming chief Rob Wade.
“We were told well done, great marketing, great scheduling, great show, but then it swiftly became how do we keep moving this, how do we keep this conversation going,” Wade says.
The first season didn’t have a pilot, was shot in just 19 days and barely gave the cast and crew any time to “stop and look at our mistakes,” reveals showrunner Izzie Pick Ibarra. During a “good postmortem” on the first season, Wade, Ibarra and co. identified that the key to the show’s future success would be building narrative arcs for each contestant throughout the season, while setting aside more time for “guessing and banter” between host Nick Cannon and the four judges Ken Jeong, Nicole Scherzinger, Jenny McCarthy and Robin Thicke.
“I think the judges themselves and Nick become more of an ensemble. If you look at the first season, we were sticking five people in a room together who didn’t know each other,” Wade says. “To create a chemistry is very difficult from the word go. Now they are thick as thieves, if you watch the first couple shows you’re going to notice how naturally that ensemble acts together now, it’s a natural improvement in the show.”
Season 1 of “The Masked Singer” was the biggest surprise ratings package of the 2018-2019 season, averaging a 2.6 rating in the key 18-49 demographic and just over 8 million total viewers per episode. The show displayed good consistency throughout its freshman season, dropping around 20% from its premiere to episode 2, which is to be expected, before holding steady and finishing things off with a 35% bump for the grand finale.
Given its spectacular start, another question looming over the show is how to avoid the much talked about, much dreaded phenomenon of audience fatigue.
Wade says Fox is trying to steer clear of the F word by “not over playing the show” and keeping it scheduled as a single one-hour episode per week, while many of its unscripted competitors are moving to two-hour offerings or multiple episodes.
“We do a two-hour premiere and a two-hour finale, but other than that we kept it to one hour because we feel that in this day and age who has two hours to give up to watch a show? One hour feels like a treat and it’s in keeping with the event nature of the show,” he says.
Now that the contestants know what they’re getting themselves into, Wade said it was easier to convince celebrities to don a goofy suit and dance around in it in front of a live audience the second time around.
But one tricky aspect the show’s chiefs had to consider when casting was appealing to as wide an audience of possible in terms of age, gender and personal interests. Season 1 featured the likes of Terry Bradshaw, whom he admits non-football fans may never had heard of, as well as eventual winner T-Pain, whom older audiences may not be entirely familiar with.
“In season 2, we’ve unashamedly gone for people that different segments of the audience will know, it’s certainly taking some shots at people who maybe aren’t as well-known as others, but a certain segment of the audience will be passionate about them,” Wade says. “Yes we still have very broad names, but the thing we’ve noticed with the super big names is they’re much easier to guess. You have to be careful; we definitely have some people in there that are harder to guess and are quote, unquote less famous.”
Wade, who has experience launching long-lasting unscripted franchises both across the pond with “Big Brother” and this side of the Atlantic with “Dancing With the Stars,” says it usually takes an unscripted show “three to five” seasons to find its feet, hinting that he sees “The Masked Singer” as a long-term staple for Fox.
However, in the meantime, he’s also happy to reflect on the reverberations the show has already caused around the broadcast, non-scripted world.
“I think shows like ‘Masked Singer’ are what that the market needs. ABC has been taking some swings, NBC has been taking some swings, it’s scary though. It’s much safer to do formats that are familiar and do twists on them and attach the right auspices, market them, give them lead ins and try and launch them, as an executive that’s a safer way to get a decent number,” Wade says. “I get excited not just for this year, but for the next four or five years, I think we’re going to get some really interesting, creative shows in the unscripted arena.”
Season 2 of “The Masked Singer” premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox.