Thursday, December 27, 2007

On The Second Day Of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas, my true love (Television) gave to me....Two singing shows debuting within 24 hours.

Who can forget the hilarity that ensued when The Singing Bee and Don't Forget The Lyrics debuted within days of each other? Okay, okay, who can remember the hilarity that ensued when The Singing Bee and Don't Forget The Lyrics debuted within days of each other? I wasn't sure America thought there was a need for one show where people filled in the missing lyrics to songs and NBC and FOX gave them two. Still there must be something to the format because both shows are still on. Of course that little business of the Writers Strike may have something to do with at least one of these shows still being on, maybe both.

The whole story began with the NBC upfronts in May 2007 when the network announced that The Singing Bee would be given the first hour slot on Friday nights, temporarily replacing 1 vs. 100. The show was described as one where people would give the correct lyrics to popular songs in order to win big prizes. The format would be along the lines of the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee – hence the title. At the time there was no similar show announced from FOX either for their Fall schedule or their Summer schedule. This would change.

FOX revealed in mid-June that they would have a new summer show called Don't Forget The Lyrics in which contestants would have to correctly sing the lyrics to win big prizes. The series would debut on July 11, 2007 and would be hosted by Wayne Brady. Needless to say NBC was livid. On the other hand it wasn't the first time that FOX had taken one of their ideas and tried to put a look-alike series on the air. In November 2004 Fox sprang The Next Great Champ starring Oscar de la Hoya and produced by the Dutch multinational Endemol on an unsuspecting (and largely disinterested) public, about four months ahead of NBC's much hyped The Contender hosted by Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone, which was produced by Mark Burnett of Survivor fame. At that time NBC couldn't respond quickly but this time they could. Swiftly hiring former N'Sync singer Joey Fatone as host, they announced that their show would debut on July 10th, the day before Don't Forget The Lyrics, and to make the similarities between the two shows even more apparent, the premiere episode was aired on the 11th, starting a half hour before the debut of the ABC series.

Of course, the shows were quite different. From an originality standpoint, Don't Forget The Lyrics did not impress. If anything it bore a very strong resemblance to the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with some modifications. Instead of multiple choice trivia questions, the contestants on Don't Forget The Lyrics had to pick a type of song and after a period of singing karaoke style (with the words put up on a screen) they had to sing the next group of words correctly to win the money at that level. Like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire prizes went up as songs were done correctly while contestants risked losing it all if they got the line of the song wrong (although there was a "Millionaire") style plateau at $25,000. Finally players on Don't Forget The Lyrics had three different "Helps" (aka "Lifelines") that they could use throughout the game.

By contrast The Singing Bee seemed like a far more creative concept. There are several rounds in which contestants are removed until only one contestant is left standing. That contestant participates in "The Final Countdown" in which a player has to remember the correct lyrics for seven songs, each worth $5,000. If the contestant gets all seven right they win $50,000. Between the qualifying sing-off and the Final Countdown, the contestants can face one of at least five different challenges. And it's all presided over by Joey Fatone, who (on those very rare occasions when I watch either of these two shows) has always seemed to be having more fun as a host than Wayne Brady does.

After all the controversy surrounding the one-upsmanship by the networks which led to The Singing Bee being the second highest rated show that week the it debuted (behind Baseball's All-Star Game) the show turned out to be a less than stellar performer in the ratings, pulling a 1.7 rating the Tuesday before it was pulled from line-up. It returned on December 21st, going head to head with a rerun of Don't Forget The Lyrics – it got creamed, finishing in fifth place, while the Don't Forget The Lyrics rerun tied for first in the 18-49 demographic even though it finished fourth in total viewers.

(Hey, these pieces can't all be winners.)

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