While the singing competition game show "The Singing Bee" didn't last very long on NBC in 2007, the move to cable's CMT network last summer proved to be a smart one as ratings reached new heights for the country music channel. Mixing country songs with pop songs, contestants must face each other in knowing the correct lyrics to the classic and popular songs they are singing. While the NBC version had television personality (and former 'NSYNC-er) Joey Fatone as host, CMT instead enlisted singer/actress Melissa Peterman, who already had a built in audience with country fans from her years co-starring on Reba McEntire's popular sitcom "Reba." To find out more about the show's success, our Jim Halterman visited the set of "The Singing Bee" and chatted with Peterman as well as with Executive Producers Bob Horowitz (of Juma Entertainment) and Phil Gurin (of The Gurin Company).
Jim Halterman: Can you tell me how the show went from NBC to CMT?
Bob Horowitz: When we first came up with the show one of the first places we had discussions with was CMT because country lyrics were so perfect for the format we were creating so now we've actually gone full circle.
Phil Gurin: Basically what happened was that our deal with NBC expired even though we won our time period every time we were on the air. We're in 32 countries around the world and I was on the phone with Bob one day and I said 'It's a shame we're not on the air here. What can we do?' We remembered CMT so I made a cold call to some friends of ours and two days later they wanted the show. They got the show right away. We had to change the show to make it more affordable for cable television but I know Bob would agree with me when I saw we have a better show here than we had at NBC by doing it for smaller dollars.
JH: When the show premiered on CMT last summer, the numbers were really strong for the network. Why is that?
Melissa Peterman: Because it's a feel good show. It's not a show that you're supposed to walk away feeling bad. Even if they don't win, it's still really fun. I think these times specifically when everyone is hurting and music is a feel-good sort of thing. For me, music is a big part of my life and you think it's a natural, feel good kind of thing. The show is fun. We've got a live band, we've got singers and the contestants who are the stars of the show and I think all those combined it makes it fun to watch.
PG: The other part that people don't know is that it's the number one show on CMT and it's a show that wherever they put it on the schedule on CMT it works. They're blown away by the reruns of 'The Singing Bee.' The President of CMT said that when they put it in a time period in late night it received the highest number they'd ever received for that timeslot and that was 2 a.m.!
BH: What is also fun about the show, why people are staying with us and why they're watching the repeats is that while it's a game it's also a music show; it's a party. Any show is going have anywhere from 20-30 songs and, as the game plays out, you never know what you're going to hear.
JH: Melissa, you have so much infectious energy hosting the show. Where does that come from? Caffeine?
MP: I think it would be 80% natural, 10% caffeine and then just 10% just excitement. There's an audience there and that always gets me up and energetic. I'm a theater girl at heart so if there's an audience there you just can't help but perform and be excited.
JH: Are you surprised at how good some of these contestants are when they start singing?
MP: I'm shocked. I'm shocked that anyone can do that chorus showdown. Even though we all think we know the choruses, that's a really difficult part of the game. It has to be word for word perfect for the whole chorus and some of those choruses are really long. If people do that, I am always just blown away. I thought I knew it and then I look at the card and say 'There's no way I could've done this and it's my favorite song!'
JH: The show mixes up country with pop songs. Do you personally have a preference?
MP: I have a little bit of everything. Reba would always joke that if you want to know a song just listen to Melissa's IPod because I literally have Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' to Prince to George Strait to the Ting-Tings. I honestly like everything. What I think is great about mixing it up is that country goes across so many demographics. It's not just a specific demographic. It's all over the place and that is working for the show, too. What's great about having it on CMT and from working with Reba and touring with Reba, country fans are the most loyal, hardcore fans out there and if they love an artist or band then they're in it and they're in it for life and I think that's a great thing to have as part of our audience.
JH: What are the differences between the season that aired last summer and these new episodes?
BH: We had great contestants last time but we had even better this time around because the CMT audience knew the show so when our contestant team went all around the country looking for contestants they'd show up and people were fans already. You don't have to sell them a new idea, you sell them something they're used to watching at home and they say 'I can do that.'
PG: We can say the contestants are better but Melissa's even more phenomenal. She's so comfortable, she knows the game, the format, she knows how to interact with the contestants and she knows how to make the studio audience part of the party; she's truly owning the show.
"The Singing Bee" kicks off its new season tonight on CMT at 9:00/8:00c.