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'Lip Sync Battle': Inside TV's newest viral sensation

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Spike

It was supposed to be a one-off—a funny bit that John Krasinski came up for an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in 2013. Instead, it took on a life of its own, becoming a recurring gag when Fallon took over The Tonight Show—and now Lip Sync Battle, based on the late show bit, has become its own series on Spike TV. With over 3 million viewers tuning in to the show’s April 8 debut, Battle became the most watched series premiere in the channel’s history.

So what exactly is it about lip syncing that’s so insanely appealing?

“Variety is so hot right now,” says Casey Patterson, the show’s executive producer. “Everybody is trying to find a fresh way into variety, and the twist on Lip Sync Battle is that it’s variety in its most classic form—but it also has this incredible online fan base and digital afterlife.”

She’s not just talking about the views the clips have been racking up online, though those numbers are massive; Anne Hathway’s version of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” already has 6.5 million views on YouTube. Patterson’s also referring to the fans who upload their own lip syncing videos to the site.

“The huge culture of lip syncing online has nothing to do with The Tonight Show,” says Patterson. “There’s a guy online, Steve Kardynal, who has over 100 million views for his version of ‘Wrecking Ball.’ So there’s already a built in fan base.”

And celebrities are already in on the game. “Taylor Swift will post herself lip syncing to someone else’s song in the car. Everyone is into it. It’s just a thing that’s happening in pop culture anyway,” says Patterson. (Elizabeth Olsen also recently admitted that lip-syncing is a skill of hers.)

So does that mean it wasn’t hard to convince celebrities to get in on the game?

“People were very intrigued by the idea, but once they got up close, they’d like, ‘Oh God, am I really going to do that in front of all these people?” says Patterson. “But no one has backed out. Yet!”

In fact, the celebrities who have appeared on the show so far have been fully committed to their performances. “Anna Kendrick was mind blowing,” Patterson says. “She was so committed. She’s my hero for doing J. Lo knowing that J. Lo was going to walk out. She gets extra credit for that. And Anne Hathaway told us she was pressed for time and would have to do something quick and easy, and then gave us [the ‘Wrecking Ball’ performance].”

But the most committed actor so far? That would be Terrence Howard.

“We’re doing Terrence Vs. Taraji,” says Patterson. “It’s so genius. Terrence was like, ‘Guys, I know what I’m going to do. “Brick House” by Rick James!’ We were all silent, and then said, ‘Terrence, “Brick House” is by The Commodores,’” Patterson says, laughing. “Terrence was quiet for a minute too, then said, ‘I don’t care! I’m doing “Brick House” as Rick James!’ We were like, ‘okay!’”

Lip Sync Battle, which has already picked up an additional episode order and will air through the first week in September, is part of Spike TV’s initiative to rebrand itself and find a wider audience, including more women. The network also picked up its first scripted series, Tut, airing in July. Tune in tonight at 10 p.m. to see the show’s next battle—John Krasinski vs. Anna Kendrick.

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