Friday, July 13, 2007

Don’t Forget The Singing Lyrics Bee

When I heard that NBC would be airing an episode of their new series The Singing Bee on the same night that FOX would be debuting their new show Don't Forget The Lyrics, it seemed obvious to me that I should watch the two shows on the same night and review them at the same time. It's the sort of a "compare and contrast" thing that we used to do in high school, but that makes it a classic. It concerned me slightly that the episode of The Singing Bee that I'd be watching would apparently be the series' second episode...but not that much. Of course it turned out that NBC wasn't airing a new episode of the show but rather a rerun of the previous night's debut show, something that could be regarded as a mistake if what you're intent on is taking a big shot at a show which basically stole your premise. But hey, what do I know.

Let's start with The Singing Bee since the show has at least a vaguely original premise. It's not totally original but it "borrows" from an interesting source – the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee! Host Joey Fatone – second place finisher of Dancing With The Stars who seems to be alternating this gig with appearing on the DWTS live tour – goes into the audience and selects six players at random. I mean supposedly he's listening for people who sing the song that is being played correctly but it certainly helps to be in the front row or the first couple of seats on the aisle. The players are brought on stage to compete. Each player is given the name of a song and the date it was released after which the song is played when the music and the professional singer with the house band "The Buzz" (Bee – Buzz, get it? Good, 'cause I don't want it) stops they have to sing the next line correctly. Correctly means without added "yeahs" "ohs" and various other words that singers – even pros - sometimes add to a song. The first four players to get their line correct go on to the next round, which in theory means that if the first four players get their lines correct on the first try the other two players don't even get to try. In the second round, the four players are paired off. Each has to sing a longer line of a song once the music ends but this time the words of the line are visible to them on a large monitor. The problem is that they're scrambled and the player has to figure out the order. If both players get it right, or both get it wrong, they go on to another round, but when one gets it right he is paired off with the winner of the other match. This leads to the Championship Match. It's similar to the first round but with a higher degree of difficulty. Players have to sing the chorus of a song correctly. As in the second round if both players get their chorus right, or if both get it wrong, they get another song to sing, but if there's a winner he goes on to face "The Final Countdown."

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the word "money" yet. That's because to this point in the game no one else has either. That's left until "The Final Countdown" – everything else has been an elimination process for this. "The Buzz" have seven songs for the "Final Countdown." For each song in which the player correctly sings the line after the band stops he or she wins $5,000, but if the player gets five songs correct the prize becomes $50,000. "The Final Countdown" can also end if the player gets the final line of three songs wrong, in which case the player takes home however much has been won up to the time of the third strike.

Don't Forget The Lyrics has a more familiar vibe about it, like most of the other game shows on TV. The biggest similarity though is to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, though FOX would probably prefer a comparison to Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader. Host Wayne Brady welcomes a contestant who is given nine categories to choose from. Each category has a choice of two songs. The contestant picks one song and sings along to it until the music stops at which point the player has to sing the next words, with the number they have to sing depending on the monetary level they're at. Money start at $2,500and goes up until the fifth question at $25,000. The $25,000 level is a plateau; if you get the words wrong after this point you are guaranteed to win $25,000. After this things get increasingly difficult. Until this point each song has had four missing words; now the number of missing words increases to as many as ten. Players have a total of three "Backups" which are the equivalent of "Helps" on other shows. The three are "Backup Singers," where the player can ask the two family members or friends that they brought with them for help; "2 Words," where the player can check to see if two words from the lyrics they gave are right; and "3 Lines," where the player can see three possible lines for the song one of which is the correct line. If the player gets the correct answers for all nine categories they have the option of facing "The Million Dollar Song," however what the rules for this final obstacle are is as yet unclear.

NBC rushed to get The Singing Bee on the air after FOX announced Don't Forget The Lyrics and I think it's a good thing that they did. The show, which was originally slated to alternate with 1 vs. 100 is more innovative than Don't Forget The Lyrics but I have difficulty seeing it succeeding outside of the summer TV season without some serious retooling. Selecting players "randomly" from the audience gives it a real game show feel, but it takes a long time for the players to get into a position where they can win any money and the prize amount is relatively small. The show seems too compressed for the current half-hour time slot but at the same time I don't see how you could expand it to fit the hour time slot that 1 vs. 100 manages easily. Maybe the best thing about The Singing Bee is Joey Fatone, who has a natural ease and presence as host. I could easily see him hosting a non-singing game show at least as well as a comedian like Bob Saget.

As for Don't Forget The Lyrics, it suffers from mimicking an established format that has been used with variations on other shows. The only thing that really makes it unique is the application of the "singing" gimmick. Certainly the ability to pre-screen contestants has the potential to deliver some "interesting" performances, at least if the performance of the show's first contestant is any benchmark. The woman's voice had only a casual relationship with concepts like pitch and key. The show is quite clearly suited to an hour time slot although the half-hour time period that it occupies also allows for creating drama by way of cliff-hangers, and it doesn't hurt that the show airs on consecutive nights. As host, comedian Wayne Brady is adequate, but doesn't have the freshness of Fatone. I can't shake feeling that any other stand up comedian who is reasonably well known on TV could fill the role of host for this show and no one would really notice.

I can't say that I'll be watching future episodes of either The Singing Bee or Don't Forget The Lyrics. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I am not a huge music fan and my tastes tend to be towards shows that reward people for being smart – or retaining useless trivia, take your pick. Both of these shows did well in the ratings, drawing numbers that would be respectable during the main season and are spectacular for the summer. I have no doubt that both shows will be showered with the "coveted" accolade of "Best of the week" from the PTC. Both shows are innocuous and sincerely good family viewing even if they do deal with "rock and or roll." No, there's nothing really wrong with the shows; the problem is that there's not enough that's really right about them for me to generate any real enthusiasm for them. I can't recommend either show even though I don't really have anything against them. It's going to be telling to learn if either or both are able to maintain the ratings that they received in their debut episodes. They do seem to be ideal shows to plug holes in the Fall line up when (not if for either network) those holes develop. I probably won't be any happier about the prospect than I am now though.

No comments: