Fox has packed its fall schedule with a number of unscripted series and given its plum post-Super Bowl spot to Gordon Ramsay’s Next Level Chef.
With Thursday Night Football moving to Amazon, Fox is cooking up the return of Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen, one of the four shows fronted by the Brit chef for the network with more to come. Lego Masters also moved from the summer to follow The Masked Singer, which returns for its eighth season.
All of this highlights the continued importance of reality television to the relatively new incarnation of the broadcast network, the unscripted charge led by president of alternative entertainment and specials Rob Wade.
Wade told Deadline that “it’s been a pretty busy year”.
“There was a lot of late moves and changes,” he said. “It’s quite an interesting time because we’ve got the Super Bowl, which changes the whole complexion of your schedule. Suddenly you’re trying to build around that.”
Where the network may have usually launched the return of a show like Next Level Chef, a culinary competition series that stars Ramsay, Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais as well as a $250,000 grand prize, in March, it wants to take advantage of the biggest domestic sporting event of the year.
“You wouldn’t normally necessarily launch show a February,” he said. “But it moves it up if you’re going to launch around the Super Bowl, when you’ve got all of that traffic coming to Fox.”
Fox, which is a partner in Ramsay’s production venture Studio Ramsay Global, is essentially creating its own extended universe with the formerly sweary chef. It also has Food Stars, a Shark Tank-esque format, originally launched on the BBC, that sees up and coming food and drink entrepreneurs fighting for angel investment.
“We’re probably going to parse them out so it doesn’t feel like they’re on top of each other. The theory is much like ABC does with The Bachelor, to do them all year round. In the summer you can have MasterChef, in the fall you can have Hell’s Kitchen and then a little break before Next Level Chef and Food Stars. It means they roll into each other rather than being on top of each other.”
Wade said that they’re now looking at what other possibilities for the Bread Street owner, who also has Kitchen Commando at Fox-owned free streamer Tubi. Could it include a U.S. version of Trailblazers, the Ruby Wax-fronted adventure series that his company is making for the BBC?
“I still think there’s room for another kind of style of Gordon shows, he’s very versatile,” added Wade.
THE MASKED SINGER CHANGES
The Masked Singer is returning for its eighth season on September 21.
This season, which was filmed in LA despite rumors of a move to Las Vegas, will include celebrity in costumes such as Venus Fly Trap, Sir Bug A Boo and The Dragon Bride. The judges Jenny McCarthy, Nicole Scherzinger, Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke will also be able to sit closer to each other this time around, meaning that they’ll be able to hear what each other is actually saying. They were also able to return to a full studio audience. The show has produced five of its eight seasons under Covid restrictions.
“It was hard but this one was not as hard as the others but it still got affected [by Covid]. If you look at when we’ve gone into production over the last two or three years, it’s almost exactly when there’s a spike in Covid cases. We did get hit hard from a casting point of view,” he added.
There will also be a new format point – King or Queen of the Masked Singer with two reveals in every show, and the winner of each show moves on but remains unmasked. They were also able to create theme nights including a Muppet night, a Vegas-themed show and an Andrew Lloyd Webber evening and will have celebrity guest appearances from the likes of Donny Osmond, Carrot Top, Blue Man Group and Lance Bass.
Wade expects that the twice a year pattern will continue with another season rolling out in the spring.
Part of this is down to the difficulty of launching new titles. “You just have to look at all the shows on network TV at the moment. What would you say is doing well? Even if they’re not doing as well as they used to, they’re still doing better than new stuff. If you took out old shows and new shows based on old IP so remakes, just the brand new titles this summer, I don’t think there’s been anything that’s really launched [well] at all,” he said.
Older formats are expensive so Wade is looking to create bigger shows more effectively, as it’s done with its Irish format The Big Deal via its international format fund, which is in development in the U.S.
“If you do that, there’ll be a more of an argument to put them in but I think it’s a little bit like being in a forest at the moment. The real way to grow the sapling is you’ve got to get rid of some of the bigger trees and give them the light. But you have to make a really strong business case for it,” he added.
Wade is also keen to leverage more from superstar creators such as The Masked Singer creator Wonwoo Park. He said that Fox has two things in development from Park “that are really different”. He wouldn’t confirm whether they include a remake of Korean competition series Lotto Singer or the Eurovision-inspired show that he revealed to Deadline.
“I’ve noticed when you work with a really great creatives, you consistently get original ideas. They’re not always ideas you want to buy, but they’re always ideas that makes you pay attention,” he said.
TACKLING TOM BRADY
Talking of getting attention, the network has been playing up to the rumors that Tom Brady could potentially appear on The Masked Singer. The rumors started when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback missed 11 days of training camp and the network leaned in to the rumors and Reddit threads with a video showing Ken Jeong guessing that Brady was one of the contestants.
Fox, as you can imagine, is not biting. When asked, Wade would only say cheekily, “We do not comment on casting but we’ve surprised America a number of times.”
The 45-year old has other ties to Fox. Before he retired, he had signed a massive deal, reported to be worth around $375M, to become the network’s lead NFL analyst. He will now take up that role when he finally hangs up his jersey.
But even before this eye-watering deal Brady, who runs his own production company, 199 Productions, was set to team up with Fox on an unscripted series. At the network’s 2021 Upfronts, Fox boss Charlie Collier teased a series with Brady (“yes, that Tom Brady”), which Deadline understood to be from Love Is Blind and Married at First Sight producer Kinetic Content.
That project was obviously pushed back by Brady’s move to return to the field for his 23rd season and there’s still a possibility that it happens once Brady eventually does retire, but only time, and Buccaneers results, will tell.
At some point, be it in the commentary box, hosting a reality dating show or on The Masked Singer, one would expect TB12 to appear on Fox.
Fox hasn’t canceled an unscripted show in over two and a half years. Shows such as Ultimate Tag, The Masked Dancer, Game of Talents, Mental Samurai and Alter Ego are unlikely to come back, but there’s a possibility. These days, according to Wade, there’s little need to officially cancel reality series.
Unlike scripted series, where cast options are key, entertainment shows are all about format and talent can always be persuaded to return, or replaced, if a network wants to bring a show back.
For instance, So You Think You Can Dance looked dead but returned to Fox three years after it was on air with some talent changes.
NBC has similarly parked, rather than canceled, shows such as Amy Poehler’s Making It, Kristen Bell’s Family Game Fight and AGT: Extreme, while ABC has parked Supermarket Sweep and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Wade said, “There used to be a real opportunity to move shows between networks and real competition for shows between networks and now that’s gone. You can never say never in case a show comes in at a good price.”