While the phrase “business as usual” can’t really apply during a global pandemic, for producers of studio-based competition programming, maintaining a semblance of consistency from previous seasons while introducing enough twists to keep audiences coming back for more is still a key challenge when launching a new season — just like in the “Before Times”, pre-COVID-19.
For producers and cast members of Fox’s massive unscripted hit The Masked Singer, gathered virtually before the press during a TCA session yesterday (March 2) in advance of the March 10 season five premiere, keeping the franchise fresh while retaining a sense of warm and fuzzy familiarity in the upcoming season came with added challenges and opportunities.
On the plus side, Smart Dog Media founder and executive producer Craig Plestis said that the level of celebrities keen to don the outrageous costumes and serenade the judges has risen considerably.
“We had so many celebrities that wanted to be a part of the show,” he said regarding season five. “There were people that we had to say, ‘Come back for a future season.’ We were very lucky this season overall, and we are going to be lucky in future seasons.”
Singer Robin Thicke, one of the series’ judges, also enthused that the “star power in season five is at another level.”
Of course, the identities of said celebrities will remain a secret to all until the episodes air. And as with the previous season, as a result of restrictions imposed upon shooting before a studio audience in the COVID-19 era, there was no live studio audience on hand during tapings to “ooh” and “aah” at the big reveals. Instead, producers have continued to comb through previous seasons to splice audience reaction shots from past episodes into the current season, as part of the process of crafting a virtual audience to augment the action.
“I think people are pretty sophisticated, and I think everyone knows what’s going on in the world right now,” said executive producer James Breen regarding that element. “So, I don’t worry that people think it’s real. And I also think big, communal events are what everyone’s missing right now, and we wanted to keep that atmosphere and that fun for everyone at home. I think it would be a very different show without any audience.”
“And cardboard cutouts just don’t cut it,” added cast member and judge Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg.
In terms of freshening up the franchise, viewers can look forward to a guest host — Niecy Nash — appearing for part of what Plestis regards as “our game-changing season”, with regular host Nick Cannon set to return “towards the second half of the season,” according to Breen. And, to up the ante of unpredictability, a new character is being introduced in the upcoming season — Cluedle-doo. According to Thicke, the character provides some clues as to the Masked Singer’s identity, while “a lot of them are misdirects.”
The fifth season of The Masked Singer premieres on Fox on March 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.