Jeff Apploff on bringing “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!” back to Fox

More than a decade has passed since the original U.S. format Don’t Forget the Lyrics! was taken off the air, but in that time it’s found success around the world. The ...
May 24, 2022

More than a decade has passed since the original U.S. format Don’t Forget the Lyrics! was taken off the air, but in that time it’s found success around the world.

The series, which challenges contestants to complete song lyrics for increasing amounts of cash, with an ultimate prize of $1 million, debuted on Fox in 2007, and ran for four years before its cancellation. During and following on from that initial run, the format was adapted for more than 20 countries, with some versions still continuing today (such as France’s N’oubliez pas les paroles! which has aired thousands of episodes since 2007). Now, after a decade off the air in the U.S., the series has been revived for Fox, which aired the first episode on Monday night.

Emmy nominee Niecy Nash hosts the new series, which was created by Jeff Apploff and produced by Apploff Entertainment and Bunim/Murray Productions. The new version will air back to back with another Apploff-created music competition, Beat Shazam, hosted by Jamie Foxx.

Apploff sat down with Realscreen to discuss the revived format and the block of programming it now shares with Beat Shazam.

What made you want to revive Don’t Forget the Lyrics?

Well, we never felt like it should go away. When the show went away on Fox years ago, the ratings were still really good. It’s been 11 seasons in France, and it’s still one of the biggest shows in all of France. The show started to sell again internationally, and when I was looking at the landscape of television, there were a lot of reboots coming back, and I’m like, “There’s no reason why this show shouldn’t come back.”

So we went in, we put it together, we really thought about what we wanted to do, and we thought if we made the show feel as fresh as we could [and] if we got the right host, it was a perfect time to do it. And then it was literally bought in the room. We went and pitched it to the networks, and [Fox president of alternative entertainment] Rob Wade saw immediately what the show was, loved the format.

Did you face any difficulty rebooting this series, any hesitation of reviving it since it was canceled initially?

No, [because] it’s the format. When we pitch a show, we put it up on its feet, we walk in and we make you play the show. There’s something about singing along to a song, it’s karaoke, right? You go into a karaoke bar, you’re watching somebody do karaoke, but [now] you’re talking about for a million bucks.

The “why” of a show is really important. So when you have something that people do on an everyday basis, [like] you’re singing along and all of a sudden, out of the blue, the music stops, the words disappear and can you fill in those words? It’s a very, very simple premise. And it’s fun. People love music, and everybody has had that moment where they think they know the words or they don’t. So it’s so easy to wrap your arms around [as a concept].

We went out, and three networks wanted it. Fox is the one that made sense. It was on Fox before, and I do so many shows with them, and they really have a lot of great musical game shows on their network. And for me to have a chance to have two shows back to back on the same night was a really fun idea, too.

Between Don’t Forget the Lyrics! and Beat Shazam, what is it about these two formats that you think works and appeals to viewers?

I always want to know the “why” of a show. First of all, why would a game work? And why would people want to watch it? When you’re watching game shows, what you really want is the audience to just intrinsically want to play along. They just want to, without even thinking about it. Like if you’re watching Jeopardy!, the questions come up, you find yourself answering the questions until it gets to 16th-century whatever-it-is and you can’t get it. But you want people to really want to play along.

Music is the soundtrack to people’s lives. Everybody loves music. Then you add hosts that are funny. We’ve got Jamie Foxx, he’s the most entertaining person on the planet. You’ve got Niecy Nash for Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, she’s so funny. They understand comedy, they understand drama, [and] these shows have all of those pieces.

The other thing they’ve got is we build story throughout, just like a movie. You have a story of the game, you have the story of the characters, and as these games are going, people can relate to certain assumptions. Like, “oh my God, that song was the song that was playing when my first baby was born,” or whatever it is, and all of a sudden you can connect in a way that you couldn’t connect with certain [other] things.

Then you want stakes. There’s a reason why people would want to go and try to win this million bucks. So those are the things that I find really, really interesting. Get something that everybody does — everybody listens to music — and then create a really fun game around it.

How important is it for you to have these two series back to back, occupying one block of programming, and how can each series help increase the audience for the other?

It is the dream of a lifetime for any creator. There’s not many people that have had two shows on the same network on the same night, back to back, that they created. They’re like your babies.

I feel like you’ve got two hosts that both have a really strong following of different types of people. But both of them love comedy and music, and they’re both dramatic actors. I feel like if you said it was a show with Niecy Nash starring in it leading into a show [with] Jamie Foxx, it leads in perfectly. The other thing is that we feel like Lyrics plays different. Beat Shazam is all about speed: it happens really, really fast. It’s a giant party, and at the end of the show, it’s dramatic when it’s one team against the machine, and they’re playing for a million dollars.

With Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, that happens right from the beginning — you’re literally making the decision every single song if you want to go on for more and more and more money. They’re totally different types of games, but both wrapped around music, so we feel like they’re going to be a good marriage.

What kind of advice would you offer about creating fresh formats in a crowded space such as music competition?

It doesn’t make a difference what type of show, but you have to find the nugget of what makes it great. And then once you find that nugget of what you want your show to be about, I always suggest to people, put it up on its feet — you’ve got to do runthrough after runthrough after runthrough. You’ve got to punch holes in it, you’ve got to work on it, you’ve got to do everything that you think works right, you’ve got to do everything that you think works wrong. If something’s not working in a conference room, it’s definitely not going to work on the stage. And sometimes you see flawed formats. You go, “you could have fixed that, you should have fixed that.”

So you have to work really, really hard on it. And then you have to make sure that what you have is great. I always say, “only everything has to be perfect.” Every element, every function, everything from the script, from the way it looks, from the way every single beat works out, everything’s very important. So you have to pay attention to every detail, and don’t be afraid to throw something away or punch a hole in it or start all over again. Keep working at it and have your stuff fully fleshed out.

When you go to the network and your stuff’s not fully fleshed out, number one, they get annoyed by it, and number two, even if they buy it and they put it into development, it could be five years before you get it done. So the more work you do upfront, the better it will pay off for you in the end.

Is there any particular aspect of the revived version of the format that you think has been refined and improved from the original?

Our backups are like lifelines, and in the original one, I think we gave too many lifelines in a show that helped a lot of people get really far into the game: you would get all the way up to $500,000, it was easier to get there. This show, we still have some lifelines, but they’re done differently, and because they’re done differently, it makes it more difficult.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t people that got really far, because they did, but they had to really work to get there… In order to really make a lot of money, and that’s what everybody’s goal is, they really had to work hard in order to do that. So I think that piece of it makes it much better.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.