Emmys: 'Masked Singer' Momentum Could Shake Up Reality Show Category

Michael Becker/FOX

Last year's win for 'RuPaul's Drag Race' opens the door for other outliers to enter the reality competition race, which is known to favor older stalwarts.

Emmy voters embraced camp in 2018, with top reality wins for competition and host going to RuPaul's Drag Race and RuPaul Charles. But is the TV Academy ready to go for full-on kitsch?

The Masked Singer doesn't just head into the first round of voting as reality TV's most noteworthy breakout in years, it's also the biggest success story on broadcast TV. Fox's offbeat adaptation of the Korean format topped all other 2018-19 new series by averaging a 3.8 rating in adults 18-to-49, which made it the No. 1 entertainment program on the Big Four (tied with NBC's This Is Us). Some strategists suggest the unscripted community will be eager to reward that success. Others think the show's premise — questionable "celebrities" such as Terry Bradshaw and Tori Spelling crooning in elaborate costumes for a panel featuring strange bedfellows Jenny McCarthy and Ken Jeong — might be a tough sell.

With both groups likely in mind, Fox launched its "Consider Crazy" Emmy campaign for The Masked Singer in May. "That's what made it a hit," says an optimistic Rob Wade, president of Fox Entertainment alternative and specials, explaining the tagline. "This is a category where shows that are fun, adventurous and provide a high level of escapism are rewarded."

The category also has been slow to evolve. Ten-time winner and perennial nominee The Amazing Race is no longer the lock it once was, but stalwarts The Voice, Top Chef, Project Runway and American Ninja Warrior were all in the mix with surprise victor Drag Race in 2018. And while The Masked Singer might be the buzziest new entry, it's not the only one. Netflix put out a glossy food competition with The Final Table, and NBC launched both a Dwayne Johnson-fronted The Titan Games and a non-summer cycle of America's Got Talent dubbed "Champions." NBC, the most aggressive in the reality space, could also have a wild card in summer 2018 holdover Making It from Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.

But gauging how reality shows will fare at the Emmys, cautions one unscripted producer, is just as difficult as predicting a hit: "I honestly think the people voting for these shows have never even watched them."

This story first appeared in the May 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.