Fox Unscripted Chef Rob Wade Talks New ‘Masked Singer’ Format

As Fox Entertainment prepares for the fall season, the head of its unscripted division is very excited to resume production with reduced pandemic restrictions.

“I’m not going to say COVID is gone, because it certainly isn’t gone, but things have gotten easier to film,” said Rob Wade, president of alternative entertainment and specials. Variety ahead of the Television Critics Association’s Summer 2022 Press Tour presentation. (To find Variety‘s interview with Fox scripted chief Michael Thorn here.)

“‘We’ve got ‘The Masked Singer’ coming back,” which has been completely reimagined,” Wade said. The series, a celebrity singing contest whose identities are concealed by elaborate costumes, debuted in 2019. As a result, only its first two seasons were produced unaffected by COVID-19.

Season 8 will follow what Wade calls a “king or queen of the hill” format, where only one contestant will pass from each episode. After three singers have performed and the votes have been tallied among the studio audience, the loser will come out in the middle of the show before the other two do battle with a rendition of the same song. The loser of this round will also be unmasked, meaning unlike previous seasons, viewers won’t have to wait as long to find out who the celebrities are. The winners will face two other masked celebrities, and so on, until the semi-finals.

“That means we can facilitate clues. We don’t have to try to keep people for 12 weeks,” says Wade. “As a viewer, you can guess who they are and be really satisfied, because you find out that night.”

This strategy was designed in an effort to make “The Masked Singer” more user-friendly for viewers who find themselves interested, but are more inclined to binge-watch rather than watch the entire season.

“Nowadays, how many people come back and watch 12 episodes of the season? It’s not that many. Most people go in and out of the show,” says Wade. “And we don’t want people to stay on the show because they haven’t seen it sooner. [episode].”

Fox caught the heat for season 7 of “The Masked Singer,” when Rudy Giuliani was revealed as a contestant. In May, Wade expressed “absolutely no regrets” about choosing Donald Trump’s former lawyer, who tried to help overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. However, he appeared to hint that no such controversy would emerge from season 8. “Hillary Clinton is on it!” he joked. “No, you’re going to love this season. That’s what I can guarantee.

He was equally snarky when responding to a casting rumor regarding Tom Brady, who recently signed a 10-year, $375 million deal with Fox Sports: “We can’t comment, but whenever we see, our marketing team is always trying to engage with the fans. I can’t say yes; I can’t say no. We just have to say. ‘Wait and watch!’

Gordon Ramsay is another big name with a big deal at Fox, having formed production company Studio Ramsay Global with the network in 2021. Earlier this week, SRG announced his first key leadership appointment, head of global strategy and US operations Cyrus Farrokh, and Next, the company will debut “Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars” on Fox in the US (the series has already aired in the UK)

“It’s Gordon like you’ve never seen him before, from a business perspective,” Wade says, as “Food Stars” sees contestants competing to win a financial investment from Ramsay.

Other new shows coming to the network include the new “Special Forces: The Ultimate Test” (working title), adapted from the UK format “SAS: Who Dares Wins.” Debuting in January 2023, the series follows 16 celebrities through fictional special forces training in the Jordanian desert. The cast includes Jamie Lynn Spears, Anthony Scaramucci, Kate Gosselin, Mel B, Hannah Brown, Kenya Moore, Dwight Howard and more.

Wade says the “SAS” adaptation is the first show he’s ever done without a process of elimination, simply relying on the will of the contestants to keep going.

“They are completely isolated from society and producers,” he describes. “The staff sergeants control everything in the camp. They live in the middle of the desert, at 100 degrees, in a place where the toilet is literally a hole in the ground. Their beds are just a sheet on a metal bar. It’s a complete return to basics. »

Fox also lit “Farmer Wants a Wife,” adapted from a format developed by Fremantle which has led territories such as the UK and Australia. The network calls it “the most successful dating show in the world” and says it has resulted in 180 marriages so far.

“Right now, people are drawn to nostalgia. The family farm is at the very heart of America, and I think it’s under threat,” Wade says. “These farmers need to find girlfriends or wives, and at this point some of them live 400 or 500 miles from their nearest Tinder match. People have moved to cities, and that has obviously left the countryside in a precarious situation in terms of jobs etc.

On returning shows, besides “The Masked Singer,” Wade mentioned that Fox has banked a third season of “Name That Tune,” will produce a third season of “I Can See Your Voice” in October, and is developing a slightly different version of “Alter Ego”, which ran for one season so far.

Several shows on Fox’s unscripted slate have yet to be renewed, but Wade has kept quiet about the word “cancellation.”

“We keep all of our shows simmering,” he says, citing that small increases in ratings don’t always translate to increased value for Fox. “If there is one thing I have learned in recent years: you never know when you want to come back. It’s not like the good old days when it’s a five and it’s a three and it’s a two [in ratings]because there is a real financial difference between a two and a three, [but] there is not much difference between the three tenths. So you never know in the puzzle of a program when you’ll want to bring something back and when you’ll have enough money to buy a bigger show.

“People will come back like, ‘This show costs X,’ and you’re like, ‘Well, I can’t buy that.’ And then, guess what? Six months later, that’s X minus half a million dollars. That’s what we’re seeing right now in the unscripted: a massive focus on profitability while delivering top-notch delivery. level. “

So, he says, “budgets are being creatively worked out” for shows like “Domino Masters,” “Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer” and “The Real Dirty Dancing,” but they haven’t been officially renewed. or cancelled.

The same goes for “So You Think You Can Dance,” which had its fair share of controversy this year when Matthew Morrison left the show as a judge after failing to “follow competition production protocols, preventing [him] to be able to judge the competition fairly,” as he said in a statement. He was fired after sending private messages on social networks to a candidate, then replaced by Leah Remini.

Wade had no further comment to say that Fox has moved on: “The show is creatively as strong as ever.”

Michael Schneider contributed to this report.

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