After a summer of filming with pandemic protocols in place, Fox is set to premiere CJ ENM’s I Can See Your Voice tomorrow night (Sept. 23) on the heels of the fourth season premiere of its wildly popular adaptation of the South Korean format The Masked Singer.
The musical guessing game, created by CJ ENM’s Sun-young Lee, first aired in 2015 on South Korean music channel Mnet, where it has broadcast for seven seasons to date.
Since its debut, the format has been commissioned in 12 countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Romania, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines.
“I Can See Your Voice had been on the market for quite some time, but Fox was the first to really express faith in the format’s potential to succeed in the U.S. Their willingness to take risks on what could seem like an unusual format for U.S. audiences has made them an amazing partner to work with,” Lee tells Realscreen. “We shared a lot of our experiences and insights with them during the development stage about how to localize the format without losing its core essence.”
Hosted by The Masked Singer judge Ken Jeong, the Emmy-nominated format sees six or seven contestants compete to determine the good and bad singers from a group of performers based on clues, interrogations and lip sync challenges, in hopes of winning a US$100,000 cash prize.
Episodes will culminate with the selected vocalist revealing their real singing talent, or lack thereof, in a duet performance with a musical superstar.
A rotating panel of celebrity detectives will join Jeong, including actress Cheryl Hines and television host and vocalist Adrienne Bailon-Houghton.
The U.S. adaptation is produced by Fox Alternative Entertainment. Jeong and Lee serve as executive producers with James McKindlay and Craig Plestis, CEO of Smart Dog Media and EP of The Masked Singer.
I Can See Your Voice premieres Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Realscreen caught up with with Lee (pictured below, left) and Diane Min (right), CJ ENM’s head of format sales, about adapting the series, producing during COVID, local adaptations and format infringement.
This interview has been edited for brevity and claruty.
How will the format be adapted for U.S. audiences? And what went into the decision making behind any tweaks to the series?
Sun-young Lee: Viewers can expect a couple changes regarding the involvement of ordinary people as contestants, and a different calculation system for the prize money. We had actually filmed a pilot last year, which was extremely helpful because we were able to see what worked and what didn’t. Combined with insight from both Fox’s production team about American audiences and CJ’s producers about the original format, we were able to make the appropriate tweaks for a great local series.
Given that the series was filmed this summer, what sort of safety protocols were in place on set? What hurdles did COVID-19 present for producers?
Lee: The production team faced so many challenges in trying to produce the show during the COVID crisis. Production had constantly been pushed back since March, and there were a lot of precautions and changes that had to be made given the circumstances. Luckily the team found a way to make it work while abiding by all the guidelines, but it was certainly not an easy task. For the U.S. version, I heard that Fox employed all health and safety protocols with the LA shoot including social distancing and personal protective equipment. I know that Fox is working closely with local and state officials, including the Health Department, as well as the unions on protocols to make sure that the production environment is as safe as possible.
The format has been picked up in a number of regions. How is it tweaked to suit different audiences? Are there new or unique elements introduced for individual territories?
Lee: It really helps that we have already thought about and developed many different versions for other local markets for the past years. Especially, each market has their own duration of the show and broadcasting circumstances. For instance, in the U.S. (unlike in Korea), we had to have six commercial spots within the show, which turned out to be one of the biggest challenges for us to adapt the format.
However once the localization has been made to fit the local broadcasting circumstances, the essence of ICSYV, guessing the singer without listening to them sing and just by their character, penetrated every market and brought the audience with great joy. We even came up with a ‘ICSYV signature face’ which was hilarious. The Fox pilot was very exciting to shoot and most people were excited to find bad singers. I’m very much looking forward to the first episode.
BBC1 is set to air its version of the format next year. What’s the status of that version, and can you share any details on how the series is being adapted for British audiences?
Lee: We are currently in active development discussions with our UK partners and are aiming to begin production very soon. We cannot share too much about the format itself but viewers can expect all the greatness of the original format with a good amount of British flair.
How involved is CJ ENM with the format once it’s commissioned abroad?
Lee: As the original creators we provide our overseas partners with our brand package and an extensive format bible for reference. A flying producer from CJ ENM will also visit the country for consulting the local production in order to keep ICSVY‘s brand essence and bring it to the global audiences well. For cases such as the U.S. version for Fox and the UK version for BBC1, I would participate directly as the executive producer.
South Korean formats have increasingly made their way to U.S. screens in recent years. What is it about formats from South Korea that have resonated with audiences half a world away? And what has contributed to South Korea and CJ ENM’s flourishing formats production as a whole?
Diane Min: The South Korean format market has a very long tradition. Unlike the U.S. or UK, we don’t have many formats that go on for seasons and seasons — we constantly come up with new formats to meet the market. This has led to a very diverse library with many unique formats hence giving us big opportunities to meet worldwide audiences. One of the first formats that created a worldwide sensation was Grandpas over Flowers which twisted a normal travel-reality format into a grandpas version. It is also our format from 2013, which aired on 2016 on NBC for two seasons [as Better Late than Never] with #1 ratings in the slot with nine other versions worldwide. I think this track record let people around the world know that Korean formats are powerful.
Over the course of the series’ run, the company has commented on what it sees as several instances of format infringement. Could you talk about that?
Min: It is such a shame that such issues continue to plague our industry, but we want to assure you that we have and will always continue to do everything in our power to preserve the integrity of our format. Most importantly, we have all the confidence that no copy will ever be able to successfully recreate the core of a show like ICSYV. Our Korean production team has had seven successful seasons worth of experience, and we are always prepared to assist our official licensees with the proper resources to create the best local version of ICSYV.