In Depth

NBC Rushes 'Singing Bee' to Beat Fox Show

Formats Go Head-to-Head in Summer Reality Race

The reality format races have returned. NBC and Fox are jockeying to become the first network to present a game show in which contestants strive to recall song lyrics.

Unlike prior scrimmages that resulted in Fox nimbly beating the competition to air, however, this time NBC has gained the upper hand with a last-minute schedule shift for its program "The Singing Bee," giving it a one-day lead on Fox's similar "Don't Forget the Lyrics!"

Vince Manze, NBC's president of program planning, scheduling and strategy, attributed the network's newfound aggressiveness in part to the hire of Ben Silverman, who officially started last week as co-chair of NBC Entertainment.

"What's the phrase? We're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore," Mr. Manze said. "At some point you say, 'That's enough, we're going to play that game.'"

NBC's move to debut the series in three weeks is all the more remarkable considering the first show has not yet been shot, and no host has been signed ("Lyrics" has Wayne Brady). Sources said former 'N Sync singer and "Dancing With the Stars" participant Joey Fatone has finalized a deal for the role.

"Fine, they beat us, let them have it," said Preston Beckman, executive VP for strategic program planning at Fox. "We've always planned this for summer. We've already shot episodes. If we wanted, we could put it on next week. If they think rushing a product to air one day before us is somehow outsmarting us, they're just [f------] themselves."

"Bee," from producers Phil Gurin and Bob Horowitz, was put into development at NBC in April. A couple of weeks later, Fox ordered a show with a similar format, then titled "Off the Charts," from RDF USA.

Both shows feature contestants trying to complete the lyrics to popular songs, with "Bee" featuring players competing against each other (as on "Jeopardy!"), whereas "Charts" has one person competing against the bank (as on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire").

Chris Coelen, CEO of RDF, said his version was not inspired by NBC's version. "We have a unique, independently created show that we feel great about and that we pitched out to every network -- including NBC -- and had multiple offers on," said Mr. Coelen, whose company was previously on the other side of a format race when it produced ABC's "Wife Swap." "Ultimately we made a deal with the partner we felt was best for the show."

Mr. Gurin could not be reached for comment.

At its May upfront presentation, NBC announced that "Bee" would premiere on Fridays in the fall, though it also planned to preview the series sometime during the summer. Fox retitled its show "Don't Forget the Lyrics!" (to better match the network's similarly combative-sounding reality hits "So You Think You Can Dance?" and "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?") and last week announced its show will premiere July 11, seemingly beating "Bee" by a couple of months.

With the premiere date only weeks away, this is the point in the story where Fox usually wins the scheduling race. The network previously outflanked competitors by rushing to air shows about boxing (Fox's "The Next Great Champ" vs. NBC's "The Contender"), nannies (Fox's "Nanny 911" vs. ABC's "Supernanny"), endurance contests (Fox's "The Chamber" vs. ABC's "The Chair") and domestic-duty swapping (Fox's "Trading Spouses" vs. ABC's "Wife Swap").

But Mr. Manze said the network had been expecting Fox's move. Within 24 hours of Fox's announcement, NBC quietly moved up "Bee" to premiere July 10. NBC's "America's Got Talent," the top-rated show of the summer, will serve as a lead-in.

It's unclear whether being the first reality show to the marketplace helps ratings. Fox's "Champ," "Nanny 911" and "Spouses" averaged lower viewership than their slower-to-launch competitors during their first seasons. Fox's "The Chamber" outperformed "The Chair," but only lasted three episodes.

Comments 29

alexis hogan

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