Fox has navigated the challenges of Covid to get a number of its key non-scripted titles including upcoming A.I. singing competition series Alter Ego and breakout mystery hit The Masked Singer in the can.
These shows, which both launch on Wednesday September 22, are joined in the completed roster by a reboot of Don’t Forget The Lyrics, and the second season of I Can See Your Voice, while Gordon Ramsay cooking competition series Next Level Chef is currently in production.
It’s a far cry from last summer, where across the non-scripted business, the difficulties of the pandemic meant that shows were being pushed backed, paused and delayed.
But Rob Wade, President, Alternative Entertainment and Specials, Fox Entertainment, admits that the network is still cautious given its experience making shows during the recent Delta variant outbreak. He also has a number of decisions to make on its ever-growing slate of reality shows, evaluations that have been made harder by the difficulties in planning due to the pandemic.
“We’ve managed to get a lot in the can. It feels a lot better than it did a couple of months ago, when it was hard to make shows, now we’re hopefully going through another bit of flow rather than ebb. Everyone’s just holding their breath to see what happens next in terms of what we’re allowed to make and how we’re allowed to make it,” he told Deadline.
Wade is particularly hot on its two new titles – Alter Ego and Next Level Chef.
Alter Ego is an avatar singing competition that will see singers become stars performing as their dream reinventions. Exec produced by World of Dance EP Matilda Zoltowski and produced by Fox Alternative Entertainment, it features judges Alanis Morissette, Grimes, Nick Lachey and will.iam with Rocsi Diaz set as host.
Wade said that the show was “probably one of the most ambitious things we’ve ever done”.
“It’s a show that could never have been made before this moment because the technology has only just arrived and when I greenlit it, the technology wasn’t actually done and we had to take a massive gamble as we loaded the set, which had a six-week load in, we were going to be able to get the tech right for the first show. We’re living in a world with the Metaverse and the whole idea of marrying digital and real-world environments together, people are becoming far more forgiving and the lines are blurring. It’s an interesting mix of the two,” he said.
Meanwhile, Next Level Chef is a cooking competition series that feature Gordon Ramsay, and chefs Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais. The show, which is produced by Studio Ramsay and Fox Alternative Entertainment, features a culinary gauntlet, set on a stage, over three stories high, each floor containing a different kitchen. Line cooks, home chefs, social media stars and food struck owners will compete against each other to be crowned the the food world’s newest superstar and win a $250,000 grand prize.
Wade said that it’s a new step in the cooking genre. “It’s always a challenge to reinvent, we’re in a 20 year old industry [of reality TV] and… now you have to be much more sophisticated. It is harder to develop great shows that stand out and are fresh but having Gordon Ramsay at the helm of it is an incredible thing to have.”
Talking of Ramsay, Fox recently cooked up a nine-figure deal with the celebrity chef, that gives it co-ownership of his production company Studio Ramsay Global. Wade said that the deal would allow them to produce cooking and lifestyle programming for Fox, AVOD service Tubi as well as third party platforms. He added that it also chimes with Fox’s strategy of ownership, meaning that it is more incentivized when rolling out formats, locally and internationally, now that it has a financial stake in them.
Both shows join The Masked Singer, now in its sixth season, as arguably the most successful breakout international formats in the last decade. The mystery singing competition will have an audience for its fall run, having produced two runs during the pandemic. But Wade admits that it was tricky. “We did two Masked Singers and a Masked Dancer during the first bit of Covid and this was the first one where we were actually allowed to make with an audience, which made a lot of difference, but we also made this one right in the middle of the post vaccination Delta spread, which meant you just had a lot of challenges with people catching Covid, fortunately in a less dangerous way, but in a way that still had a lot of impact on production.”
During the show’s run, The Masked Singer has aired in the fall and in the spring, between January and March. Wade said that this was still the plan for the show’s seventh season, but that he has until December to make a decision whether that happens in 2022.
“I’m hoping we can keep running The Masked Singer in that pattern for the moment. But because of Covid and the difficulties we had in producing the last season, as well as all of the other shows over the summer, and because of what we have in the can, we have a slate of really good things on the shelf, so I think we have to be sensible about it. You want the level and standard of the show to stay up so if production headwinds became too great, there’s always the chance that we’ll have to pivot during these extraordinary times.”
Also in the Masked universe, Fox aired spin-off The Masked Dancer in December 2020. Wade said that he hasn’t decided whether the show will return for a second season.
“We were really happy with it, but we have to see how The Masked Singer does and then make a decision from there. We learned that doing Masked Singer, Masked Dancer, Masked Singer in a row during Covid was brutal. They’re obviously big, expensive shows and we want them to be made in the best way they possibly can. The intricacies of making Masked Dancer are actually much greater than Masked Singer because of the rehearsal time,” he said.
The Masked Dancer decision is one of a number of renewal decisions that Wade and Fox have to make on the non-scripted slate. Other shows whose futures have yet to be resolved include Crime Scene Kitchen, which premiered in May, Lego Masters, whose second season launched in June, Mental Samurai, which aired its second season over the summer, Game of Talents, which launched in March, Name That Tune, whose reboot premiered in January, Ultimate Tag, which aired in summer 2020, and Cherries Wild, which launched in February.
“It’s not easy to make [these decisions]. Covid has put you in a never-say-never situation,” he said.
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