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How ‘The Masked Dancer’ Went From Being a Joke on ‘Ellen’ to a Real Show at Fox

TCA 2020: Fox reality boss Rob Wade tells TheWrap when you can expect wacky new competition to premiere

Fox revealed Tuesday that its oddball singing competition “The Masked Singer” is getting an oddball sibling series, “The Masked Dancer.” The funny thing about all this — other than, you know, another very wacky premise — is the idea for “Dancer” started as a joke on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show last January, not long after “The Masked Singer” premiered.

“So ‘The Masked Singer’ launched, obviously, our show — then it went on ‘Ellen,'” Rob Wade, Fox Entertainment’s president of alternative entertainment, told TheWrap during Fox’s day at the Television Critics Association press tour Tuesday. “I watched it and I was like, ‘This is great. This works.’ So we approached them. And that was like a year ago.”

(Click here to see DeGeneres’ first attempt a “The Masked Dancer,” which became a popular segment for “The Ellen Show.”)

“And it’s just taken a while, because we obviously wanted to get ‘The Masked Singer’ off the ground and get Season 2 to go and get Season 3 into production,” Wade told us. “And we wanted to develop the ‘Dancer’ series and really try to understand the nuances of it. It took us a year to get here, but now we’re in a position where we feel like it’s a perfect extension of the brand.”

Here’s Fox’s official description for the show, which DeGeneres will executive produce:

In this all-new format, celebrity contestants will perform unique dances, while covered from head-to-toe in elaborate costumes and face masks, leaving audiences to guess their identities. A nod to “The Masked Singer,” the guessing game was introduced on “The Ellen Show,” with celebrities such as Howie Mandel, Sean Hayes, Derek Hough and “The Masked Singer’s” own panelist, Ken Jeong.

We asked Rob how is this whole “Masked Dancer” thing going to actually work, seeing as it was a joke on “Ellen” due to the difficulty of guessing who a masked celebrity is just based on their dancing alone.

“Look, first of all, with the clues you can get a lot out of how people move and you can get a lot out of the size of people and those things,” Wade said. “The big difference is you’re not going to hear a voice, but often the voice is not that helpful anyway. So what we’ve decided to do is look at ways we can add more clues. We’ve talked about the modulation of the voice and the way that you’ll probably hear a little bit more of the true tone of people’s voices as they give the clues and there will be more conversation between the judges and the dancer. But the other thing we’ve talked about is adding ways to make the performances more interesting. So it won’t just be solo dances, there will be partner dances and group dances.”

“And obviously the costumes have got to be very different,” Wade added, seeing as the outlandish ones you see on “The Masked Singer” aren’t exactly easy to dance in. (Don’t worry, he says the “Dancer” looks will still have a “similar eccentricity” to them.)

As for when “The Masked Dancer” will premiere, Wade says Fox is “hoping” to bring back “The Masked Singer” for a fourth season in the fall, so “depending on when we go into production, ‘Masked Dancer’ could be ready for summer, or it could be ready for midseason.”

“The Masked Singer” Season 3 will premiere on Feb. 2 immediately after Super Bowl LIV on Fox.