They’re at it again. The folks at Fox are copying someone else’s bright idea. Greed copied Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, The Chamber mimicked The Chair, Trading Spouses lifted from Wife Swap, The Next Great Champ followed The Contender, and Nanny 911 imitated Supernanny. This time, the “original” is NBC’s The Singing Bee, to ensure viewers’ inalienable right to watch not one but two karaoke game shows every week from now until… the first network blinks.
The Great Karaoke Wars of Summer 2007 began when NBC announced plans to debut The Singing Bee this Fall. Fox promptly scheduled its own version for July, expecting yet again to beat the original idea to the screen. But this time, NBC rushed its show into production, launching Singing Bee a full day ahead of Don’t Forget the Lyrics, repeating Bee‘s premiere the next day, just to rub it in.
The Singing Bee
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 9:30pm ET
US: 10 Jul 2007
Don't Forget the Lyrics
Regular airtime: Wednesdays 9:30pm ET; Thursdays, 8:30pm ET
US: 11 Jul 2007
The premise of both shows is essentially same: a song is played, the lyrical prompts stop, and the contestant has to continue to sing. But the execution is quite different. The Singing Bee is fast and fluffy, with a near retro feel and a stray puppy for a presenter. It offers a maximum prize of $50,000, but Don’t Forget the Lyrics is Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? set to music, with a proper host. Where Bee piles on the action, snapping through round after round of quick-fire singing, winning, and losing, DFTL drags out every decision in search of something like tension, even offering contestants the use of three lifelines (known here as “backups”). They can ask family members for help, hear any two words in their lyrics, or choose the correct lyric from three possible lines.
Unfortunately, both shows come with flaws. Bee has Joey Fatone. I’ve never understood the appeal of boy bands and refuse to watch shows about dancing. Joey’s certainly pleasant, and has enough enthusiasm to raise the Titanic. But if pleasant enthusiasm was enough, then I would’ve been Maradonna and Laurie Berkner would be Madonna. Or maybe Polly Jean Harvey. Joey Fatone is going to have step up his hosting game. He can start with not saying, “Sweet.”
While DFTL‘s Wayne Brady is the perfect host, the whole Who Wants to Be a Singing Millionaire? shtick has certainly passed its sell-by. While Brady works hard to build the all important tension before each break (and there are far too many commercials in this show), the producers prick his bubble of suspense by trailing the next section of the show, revealing that the contestant has advanced to the next stage.
This heavy-handedness is almost as annoying as The Singing Bee‘s offensively pedantic scoring of its contestants: a dropped plural, or a superfluous “Hey” above and beyond NBC’s official lyrical version, will be enough to send a singer packing. Additionally, Bee‘s sudden death tie-breaker is one-sided and ridiculous. As far I can tell, after players are told the artist’s name and the song’s year, the first contestant to press his buzzer can either nominate the other person to be totally perfect on the trickiest song of the day (and thus win) or opt to sing it himself (and thus lose). Similarly, Bee‘s pretense that its contestants have been drawn at random from the audience is exasperating. The selection process is unabashedly unrandom. The contestants all have aisle seats and “personality.”
Despite its faults, The Singing Bee was the most popular TV show in the week it premiered, pulling in 13.3 million viewers and netting the biggest audience among young viewers of any new summer series in the last five years. Meanwhile, Don’t Forget the Lyrics scored close to 8.5 million viewers, which made it almost as popular as old episodes of Law & Order: SVU. I understand that NBC has already announced that Bee will return in the fall. I hope the producers fix their tiebreaker, buy Joey some coaching, and ramp up the camp. But when my children ask what I did in the Karaoke Wars of 2007, I’ll have to tell them, I watched re-runs of NCIS.