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'Lip Sync Battle': Inside the success of Spike's unlikely hit

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Scott Gries/Spike

With obvious appeal and a premise simple enough to fit inside a tweet, Spike’s Lip Sync Battle has become a massive, demographics-defying hit for the former dude-centric network. (The show’s audience is 59 percent female, a record for Spike.) “The little fake-singing show that could,” as executive producer Casey Patterson describes it, has managed to find a broadcast audience of 3 million a week since its April debut—the best ever for a Spike original—not to mention millions of hits on “You gotta see this!” clips uploaded to YouTube.

The viral aspect of Lip Sync Battle was practically guaranteed, given the show’s origin as a segment on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. What Spike president Kevin Kay wasn’t sure about was whether the format could be sustained for a half hour. It was a valid concern, considering the premise: A person pretends to sing in an effort to win a competition that uses applause to crown a victor, who receives no prize. Not exactly high-stakes TV.

But a roster of A-list celebrities willing to make fools of themselves never hurts. So far this season Emily Blunt has faced off against Anne Hathaway, John Legend has taken on buddy Common, and we’ve been promised a battle between Empire’s Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard.

“It’s definitely the toughest ask in Hollywood,” says Patterson, who points to Lip Sync Battle’s producer Jimmy Fallon and executive producers John Krasinski and Stephen Merchant as invaluable assets. “The talent community trusts their sensibility. We have the advantage there.”

And though the cost of song rights keeps the simple production from being a cheap one, the gamble has paid off in the fight for ratings. “I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that we cracked the code,” Kay says, “but I think we got a couple of numbers on the combination.”

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