The plum post-Super Bowl programming slot—which goes to a different entertainment show each year—can be both a blessing and a curse. While it offers higher ratings than almost any other single entertainment episode of the year, there’s no guarantee those viewers will return for another episode.
Fox found that out the hard way in 2017, when it scheduled 24 spinoff 24: Legacy after the Big Game, giving the show a debut audience of 17.3 million (and a 6.1 rating in the 18-49 demo). But only a fraction of those viewers stuck around for the rest of the season, leading Fox to cancel the show a few months later. (A similar fate befell CBS’ quickly forgotten The World’s Best, which aired after last year’s game.)
This time around, Fox is hoping to avoid the potential pitfalls of that post-Super Bowl slot by scheduling the Season 3 premiere of The Masked Singer, which is currently this season’s No. 1 entertainment show in the adults 18-49 demo.
Based on a South Korean format, the reality competition show, in which celebrities dress head to toe in outlandish costumes and sing anonymously with one contestant getting unmasked each week, became broadcast’s biggest freshman hit last year. Fox opted to schedule two cycles during the 2019-20 TV season: one airing last fall and the other at midseason, leading out of the Super Bowl.
Fox’s top entertainment priority last fall was continuing the show’s momentum. While the 3.0 demo rating for Season 2 in Nielsen’s most current numbers was down 21% from Season 1, it has been the most-watched entertainment show in the demo this season, edging out NBC’s This Is Us (which has a 2.9). The show has helped propel Fox to No. 1 in the 18-49 demo this season—potentially setting it up for its first season win in eight years—a position it hopes to solidify during and after the Super Bowl.
As Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier considered last spring which Fox program would receive the coveted post-Super Bowl slot, “we researched every show that’s aired after every Super Bowl and tried to really understand the correlations between the lead-in and the success of the show afterwards,” he said.
After comparing new series with ongoing shows and scripted vs. unscripted programs, the network settled on The Masked Singer. “Research showed that putting a hit after the Super Bowl historically has done very well,” Collier said. “We feel very confident that we’ve put strength after strength, and we feel good about that.”
The network will promote The Masked Singer heavily during the Super Bowl and is also featuring the series as part of its “Super Monday” campaign, in which it is encouraging audiences to stay up Sunday to watch the Super Bowl and The Masked Singer, and then take the next day off.
So instead of using the Super Bowl to launch 9-1-1 spinoff 9-1-1: Lone Star, the network opted to air it after Jan. 19’s NFC Championship Game. “That’s the biggest launch of the season by far,” Collier said of the show, which debuted to a 3.8 demo rating and 14.6 million total viewers in live-plus-7. It’s Fox’s biggest series debut in more than six years, aside from 24: Legacy’s Super Bowl-boosted number in 2017.
Creating the ‘best’ post-Super Bowl episode
Once Collier picked The Masked Singer as Fox’s Super Bowl follow-up—the news was announced ahead of its upfront event in May—Rob Wade, Fox Entertainment’s president of alternative entertainment and specials, had to determine how to format that post-Super Bowl episode, which is likely to have the show’s biggest audience ever.
One option was to create a Super Bowl-themed special episode, with famous NFL players squaring off and all of their identities revealed at the end. That version “might be more palatable to that audience,” Wade said, but “then you’re not showing your show off.”
“You want the best version of the show, which is the [regular] show” he continued. “You have to take the Super Bowl audience and use it to your own advantage. That is to sample the show at its best. We believe in the format so much.”
That’s not to say Wade didn’t stack the deck a bit for that Super Bowl Sunday episode. The first group includes “six great celebrities,” he said. “And we feel like the first person to be revealed is someone who’s really going to be known by that football audience.” Fox also lined up actor-musician Jamie Foxx, who hosts Beat Shazam on the network, to be a guest panelist on the episode.
“But more than anything, we’re just trying to get into the show as quickly as possible [following the game],” Wade said.