Ten’s ‘calculated risk’ on The Masked Singer seems to have paid off, but can the show go the distance?

In the days leading up to the premiere of The Masked Singer on Ten, Mumbrella sat down with EP Stephen Tate and host Osher Günsberg to get their predictions about the show's success and why they're confident star power isn't the most important factor of the unique format.

When The Masked Singer landed on Ten this week to give the network the biggest launch since I’m A Celebrity back in 2015, it appeared the hype around the show had paid off for Ten.

The network, which has been enjoying success off the back of the finales of both The Bachelor and Survivor, pulled over a million viewers for the premiere episode of the new format, a great result and one Ten’s head of entertainment and factual, Stephen Tate, is undoubtedly very happy with.

The Masked Singer sees celebrities take the guise of everything from a prawn to a wolf and sing with complete anonymity

When Tate spoke with Mumbrella ahead of the show’s premiere, he wouldn’t commit to a viewership figure that would make him happy, instead choosing to be cautiously optimistic about the format, which he described as a “calculated risk”.

“I’m very very hopeful, but you don’t take anything for granted. You wait, and you watch, and what we’ve seen so far is really encouraging. Our research shows there’s a high level of awareness, there’s a lot of unprompted awareness, which gives you some confidence, but you don’t take it for granted,” says Tate.

“There’s a risk with every new format, but it has to be a calculated risk. You put the very best team together, and the team at Warner Bros [which produces The Masked Singer for Ten] are extraordinary. They’ve done such a wonderful job for us on the Bachelor franchise and Dancing with the Stars, so we’re in very safe hands. It’s a proven format in multiple markets around the world, so it’s a calculated risk.”

Another part of that team is Osher Günsberg, the man who has whispered his way through six years of Bachelor franchises for Ten, and whose history with Tate goes all the way back to Australian Idol in 2003. Günsberg definitely doesn’t whisper through The Masked Singer, in fact he’s firing from all cylinders.

“This show is the opposite of The Bachelor as far as I go,” he says. “On The Bachelor, I whisper because I am essentially attending a memorial service for someone’s romantic dreams, and someone is getting their heart broken, so I’m very morose and very respectful of what’s happening. This show was the opposite. I wear suits that can light up a dark corridor, when I step out on stage they let off fireworks and I get danced in by a troupe of highly trained and incredible dancers. If my full volume is 100%, I operate between 80 to 95%. On the Bachelor I don’t even make 10%.”

Günsberg is very committed to the idea that this show will cut through the noise and engage audiences and families. He spoke about it at length on his podcast, Better Than Yesterday, when talking to judge Jackie ‘O’ Henderson, and he tells Mumbrella he is confident that he, and the team, have done the best they can to create a good show.

“I host television, and I’d like to think I host it well. I don’t work in promos. I don’t work in marketing. I don’t work in programming. I don’t do any of those jobs. There are people who are very, very good at it who do those jobs. So once I’ve done my part, that’s really all I can do. And as far as I’m concerned, I did some of the best work of my life on this show, and I’ve made it into a little paper boat and I’ve sent it out to sea. If we get great numbers, we get great numbers. But I literally cannot do anything to change the outcome [once filming is done],” he tells Mumbrella.

“Families will really enjoy it, no matter what age group you’re in, if you’re a kid you can say to your parent ‘No, it’s that person’ or as a parent you can say ‘No it’s this guy who used to do this sport’. That’s a conversation that happens on the couch no matter who you are. I’m really excited about it.”

The costumes and sets are a key drawcard of The Masked Singer

Another member of the team is Tim Chappel who created the costumes the masked celebrities hide their identities with. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Chappel is one of Australia’s top costume designers, having created the Oscar and BAFTA winning costumes for Priscilla Queen of the Desert among others. His characters, the Wolf, the Octopus, the Unicorn and the Spider, form the new identities for the celebrities who take part in the show.

A large part of the conversation leading up to the show’s premiere was whether Ten would be able to generate the star power to support the format. In the US, where The Masked Singer found its mainstream audience after becoming a hit in Korea, rapper T-Pain won a season which included Gladys Knight, Rumer Willis, Tori Spelling and Ricki Lake. Ryan Reynolds appeared on the Korean show.

When Lindsay Lohan was announced as a host, alongside Jackie O, Dannii Minogue and Dave Hughes, the conversation got louder. Had Ten just spent all its talent budget on a host? Well since then we’ve had two reveals – Big Brother host and author Gretel Killeen, and former cricketer Brett Lee. But, both Tate and Günsberg assure Mumbrella that it doesn’t necessarily matter who’s under the mask – it’s the hunt, the clues, the game provided by the show that intrigues people. Plus, Ten has viewers right where it wants them. With a reveal every episode, and only 12 contestants, it’s a fast-moving format which ideally means viewers won’t have time to become jaded about any perceived lack of star power – onto the next one.

The Masked Singer is judged by [left to right] Dannii Minogue, Jackie ‘O’ Henderson, Dave Hughes and Lindsay Lohan, and hosted by Günsberg (right)

Tate doubles down on the excitement of the format and says that each unmasking would help engage viewers further.

“It delivers on the front that every single episode has a reveal. People like shows that deliver a result. We’ve seen with other franchises, if you look minute by minute the highest rating part of the episode is the reveal. It’s a very valuable part of the actual program. On Survivor, Tribal Council can sometimes do twice the number of the average of the rest of the episode. I think the reveal on Masked Singer will do the same.”

Time will tell as to whether The Masked Singer can continue its success, and what that will mean for Ten’s slate next year, or whether the curiosity which drove the figures for the first few episodes will die off towards the end. But the show seems engineered for success – it’s a short run with nightly unmaskings and a format that rewards its watchers. So far, everything seems to be geared to success, but as The Masked Singer seeks to show us, nothing is certain until the final reveal.

With additional reporting by Vivienne Kelly


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