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February 25, 2019
Craig Plestis Talks The Masked Singer
By Mansha Daswani
Described by fans and detractors alike as “bonkers,” “bizarre” and “wacky,” FOX’s The Masked Singer is arguably the buzziest new entry in the reality entertainment space in years. Although it’s not really new, having been driving conversation and ratings in Korea for years as The King of Masked Singer, while a recent Thai adaptation scored an International Emmy nomination. Originated by MBC in Korea, the show was brought to America by Craig Plestis, whose production company, Smart Dog Media, is housed at Endemol Shine North America. The veteran producer—who helped launch America’s Got Talent, The Biggest Loser and Deal or No Deal, among other reality hits, when he ran alternative programming at NBC—shares with TV Formats Weekly his journey with The Masked Singer and weighs in on how social media helped turn the quirky Asian format into one of FOX’s top-rated shows this season. The finale airs on FOX this Wednesday.
TV FORMATS: I understand you discovered the show while out to dinner?
PLESTIS: I was at dinner with my wife and daughter. We went out to have Thai food. I still think to this day that if we had decided to have Indian or Mexican or Italian, there would be no Masked Singer right now! So we’re at a restaurant and my back is to the TV. My daughter said, Dad, look at this, there is the craziest thing on. I turned around and all the diners in this small restaurant were watching the TV screen. I saw a kangaroo in black pleather singing a pop song. At that moment I said, Oh my gosh, I love this! It was bizarre. It was flypaper. It was in a foreign language and you didn't know what was going on, and it was still working. I found out that it was a hit format in Korea, it was a hit show in Thailand. And no one had the [U.S.] rights. It was so bizarre and so strange, I think people looked at it and said, that’s a crazy show, no one is going to buy that here. I got the rights fairly quickly, with the help of Steve Wohl at Paradigm. I called Rob Wade at FOX on a Friday night and said, I need to come in Monday. I was so passionate about it. I worked the whole weekend. I was pulling things off YouTube. I cut a reel. I pitched it and he loved it. FOX was the right home at the right time for this brand. Also, Rob Wade did Dancing with the Stars. Who thought ballroom dancing would work in the States? That was a gamble that paid off.
TV FORMATS: Did you have to make adjustments to the format to make it more suitable for an American audience?
PLESTIS: We did. The Korean format has a smaller burst of people and one winner. And they carry over a King of Masked Singer every few episodes. I liked the idea of following a character, not eliminating one so quickly as the Korean format does. The outfits, first of all, are really expensive. I don't want to spend a lot of money on an outfit and then it's done! Also, I like the idea of figuring out who it is. There's a scientist who did a video about why The Masked Singer works. It’s all about the idea of figuring out the mystery and uncovering that mystery and then seeing the results. Weeks go by and you get that pent-up energy, I need to figure it out! When the singer is revealed, it releases a huge amount of endorphins and you get a thrill that you were right in your calculations. This show follows that simple dynamic. And there’s the spectacle.
This interview continues here.
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