Why Fox Gave 'The Masked Singer' the Post-Super Bowl Timeslot

THE MASKED SINGER
Preview
The Greg Gayne /FOX

When someone asks "Who's gonna win?" this Super Bowl Sunday, don't bet all your nacho chips that they're definitely talking about the two teams in the 54th annual football matchup (or even the unofficial scramble to become "most viral commercial"). Fox, which broadcasts the game on February 2, also has sky-high hopes (and fingers crossed) regarding how many folks will tune in to the Season 3 premiere of The Masked Singer that same day.

The network tapped the hit competition — which features costumed, unrecognizable celebrity vocalists whom judges try to identify — for the most coveted timeslot in any given television year: the programming window directly after the Super Bowl.

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On the list of Top 20 most watched broadcasts in U.S. history, Super Bowls hold 19 positions, so whatever airs postgame gets a boost any series would welcome. With the big football showdown now being traded annually among CBS, NBC, and Fox, each network has to wait three years for the chance to slot a show that will earn ratings numbers that are often at least twice as high as those from any other episode.

It's a decision never made lightly — although offering lighter fare ended up factoring into Fox's choice last May of Masked Singer from its slate of new and not-so-new programs. "You're probably in the mood for something fun and not too mentally demanding [after the game], and there's no other [Fox] show that is ticking those boxes in a way that The Masked Singer is," says Rob Wade, Fox's president of alternative entertainment and specials.

This Is Us' "Super Bowl Sunday" (Ron Batzdorff/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

In their deliberations, Wade and his team considered the genres that had traditionally done well there. Scripted fare has proven successful over the years, with a 1996 episode of NBC's Friends currently the all-time leader (see chart, below) and Fox's New Girl scoring 26.3 million viewers in 2014. The most recent scripted entry, NBC's This Is Us in 2018, doubled its next-most-viewed episode.

Unscripted shows such as Survivor and The Voice have also succeeded, giving the team behind The Masked Singer confidence that Super Sunday could extend the reach for what was the 17th most watched series of last year. "We think we're a great, successful show, but there are a lot of people who haven't seen or don't know about it," says executive producer Izzie Pick Ibarra.

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To entice those new viewers (and please current fans), Fox has loads of surprises planned on top of the show's trademark craziness. "We're approaching [this premiere] as though it's the first time it's ever aired," explains Ibarra. And while the season brings new characters — who is dressed up as the Banana, the Robot, the Frog or Miss Monster? — the format is getting a few tweaks.

"There's 18 contestants [up from last season's 16], and now we're doing a tournament style," says Jenny McCarthy, back on the panel alongside Robin Thicke, Ken Jeong, and Nicole Scherzinger. Groups A, B, and C will each be composed of six contestants and will take turns being whittled down to three week to week. Then the top trio from each group will make up a final round of nine as part of the ultimate face-off to crown the champ.

The Robot (Michael Becker/FOX)

The clues that provide intel about the hidden crooners have also been freshened up for Season 3, to avoid the more educated guesses that come too early in the competition. "We've tried to make them less Google-able," says Wade, who adds that there will also be interview segments with the masked celeb's friends and family members — who will be masked as well!

Singer also turns up the celebrity heat in the premiere, which boasts Oscar winner Jamie Foxx as a guest panelist, giving host Nick Cannon and the judges a run for their money in figuring out who's who. "Jamie can recognize a song the minute he hears it," says Ibarra, touting Foxx's longtime unofficial affiliation with the show. "He was guessed for so many of our singers before," jokes the producer. "He told us his mother had a $200 bet on the fact that he was the Fox [last season]!" (The real Fox was Season 2 winner Wayne Brady.)

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Speaking of bets, the odds are even money that The Masked Singer will smash its own ratings record of 14.22 million viewers from the Season 1 finale. And the series has picked up additional buzz following the announcement that a similarly formatted spinoff, The Masked Dancer, is in the works, with Ellen DeGeneres, who began a "Masked Dancer" segment on her popular daytime talk show, along as an executive producer.

For now, eyes will be on that post–Super Bowl LIV episode. How high might the NFL championship lead-in push The Masked Singer's performance? Like the celebrity reveals themselves, it's anybody's guess.

Postgame Winners (and Losers)

The Friends Super Bowl show (with Julia Roberts, below) tops the U.S. viewership list (in millions) for the past 30 years; a delayed start in 2003 did Alias no favors.

Friends (Liaison)

1996 Friends (Jan. 28, NBC): 52.9

2001 Survivor (Jan. 28, CBS): 45.4

2010 Undercover Boss (Feb. 7, CBS): 38.7

2006 Grey's Anatomy (Feb. 5, ABC): 37.9

2012 The Voice (Feb. 5, NBC): 37.6

2002 Malcolm in the Middle (Feb. 3, Fox): 21.5

2013 Elementary (Feb. 3, CBS): 20.9

2016 The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (Feb. 7, CBS): 20.6

2017 24: Legacy (Feb. 5, Fox): 17.6

2003 Alias (Jan. 26, ABC): 17.4

(ABC)

Points of Fact

The tale of post–Super Bowl show choices has its own storied history:

60 Minutes has the most appearances with four (Super Bowls VI, XIV, XVI, and XXVI); notably, the last of those featured a Bill and Hillary Clinton interview about the alleged Gennifer Flowers affair.

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• In the 17 years from 1979 (NBC's Brothers and Sisters) through 1995 (ABC's Extreme), 11 of the shows were series pilot episodes.

• The first successful attempt to use the slot as a blockbuster ratings perch came in 1977, when NBC aired Raid on Entebbe under the title "The Big Event." The Emmy-winning movie earned 42.8 million U.S. viewers.

Super Bowl LIV, Sunday, February 2, Fox