January 29, 2019
The secret behind Fox’s breakout hit “The Masked Singer” can now be revealed.
How ‘The Masked Singer’ became TV’s newest hit
It’s a Thai restaurant in Studio City, Calif.
That’s where veteran reality TV producer Craig Plestis (“America’s Got Talent,” “Deal or No Deal”) first saw a version of “The Masked Singer” while dining with his daughter, Clara, who’s in her 20s. “I had my back to the TV set and my daughter said, ‘Look at what’s on the TV,’ ” he says. “I had a long day of working on another show and the last thing I wanted to do was watch TV, but she said, ‘Dad, you need to see this, it’s really interesting.’
“When I turned around and looked at the restaurant everyone was glued to the TV set,” he says. “The Thai version [of the show] had elaborate outfits and lighting and a kangaroo dressed all in pleather … I was mesmerized. I sat there and quickly [researched] the show’s premise, who owns it and called up my agent — literally right there in the restaurant — and said ‘I want to get this. There’s magic here.’ ”
Fox would agree. Through its first four episodes, “The Masked Singer” (Wednesday at 9 p.m.) has been the season’s breakout reality hit (10.1 million viewers for its Jan. 23 episode). The setup: A panel of judges — Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong, Nicole Scherzinger and Robin Thicke — try to guess the identity of a mystery celebrity who’s singing beneath an elaborate, head-to-toe bizarro costume. Thus far, the big reveals have been Antonio Brown (Hippo), Tommy Chong (Pineapple), Terry Bradshaw (Deer) and Margaret Cho (Poodle).
The show originated on South Korean TV in 2015 and became a viral web sensation. Plestis secured the rights for his company, Smart Dog Media, housed at Endemol Shine North America, and “spent the whole weekend” working on a video presentation for Fox “and diving into” what made the show work overseas. “It’s a guessing game that harkens back to shows like ‘What’s My Line’ and has the spectacle for broadcast TV,” he says.
Fox bit immediately — and then came the hard part.
“It was scary casting it. That took the longest amount of time,” Plestis says. “We were knocking on doors and trying to convince people to be part of the first season of a TV show, which is always hard.
“Then [actor] Ryan Reynolds went on the Korean version [of ‘The Masked Singer’] at the same time we were casting the show and that helped enormously,” he says. “It broke across all media, [Reynolds] in a wacky outfit (a unicorn) singing, ‘The sun will come out tomorrow.’ It was a gift from the gods.
“The most difficult part from Day One has been keeping the secret of who’s underneath the mask,” he says. “We spent a lot of time with contracts … bringing celebrities to the tapings and making sure no one talks about it, from their managers to whoever. One thing we want is for people to enjoy that moment when the mask comes off.
“Terry’s Bradshaw’s [Deer] outfit was very labor-intensive,” he says. “His was one of the heaviest outfits as well. And then [the celebrities] have these pleather masks that are not filtered. It’s a lot of commitment from these people and we try to make it comfortable for them. There’s a special area backstage with security guards; as soon as they’re not performing, we pump in AC so the whole space cools down real fast. They can take their mask off and catch their breath.
“The beauty of ‘The Masked Singer’ is that it’s a family-friendly show,” he says. “Everyone in the house can watch it together and play a guessing game. People are really engaged. You can talk about the show with someone in your living room — or online with a huge community of people guessing as well.”


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