Former TV institution American Idol ended in April after 15 seasons. Taking place two months before their new show’s debut, the Fine Brothers only had one word to describe the timing: “serendipitous.”
“It showed that we were hitting this right at the right moment versus being after the fact, being like, ‘Why is this being satirized?'” Rafi Fine says about Sing It!, their new original series on YouTube’s new premium platform Red.
Born of Rafi and his brother Benny spending years observing Idol and similar singing shows and their tropes, they noted the “stale” format of them. The premise evolved into something beyond the main competition portion.
“It turned more into a workplace sitcom of what a ridiculous workplace sitcom it would be with that extra element that we always try to look for when we’re doing our longer form projects — especially in scripted — is how you can make something more transmedia, more interactive, more engagement,” Benny tells EW. “That’s where it evolved from setting a show there to we should have an actual competition be part of this.”
“Finding those things now that make people want to come and check it out again instead of that stale format that we’re all used to from the sitcom,” Rafi adds. “We’re trying to innovate those kinds of things, trying to think big of what will the future of the sitcom be. What will make people want to go and check out a sitcom now?”
The show borrows elements from 30 Rock and The Larry Sanders Show and centers around the in-show version of Sing It! firing their showrunner after a publicized meltdown. Dutiful employee Stacey (Mircea Monroe) is in line for the job, but a determined network executive (Missi Pyle) brings in and outsider and vocal critic of the show (Mark Sullivan) to try to resuscitate the stale series.
The show-within-a-show is the singing contest itself, featuring a curmudgeonly manager (Alex Désert) and a young pop starlet (Debby Ryan) as judges; an overly sensitive, Ryan Seacrest knock-off host (Preston Jones); and contestants, filled out by digital stars and former singing contestants alike: A married couple who competed on American Idol — Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young — play one on the show.
Sprinkling in additional elements is something the Fine Brothers call “story enhancement.” In their view, it’s done to the extreme on their past scripted series, MyMusic. It’s all about creating moments or Easter eggs to help stoke fandom and foster a following of the show. Given the weekly release schedule instead of a binge, sustaining regular conversation is the desired result.
“We always say, ‘Create Disneyland for your scripted show,'” Benny explains. “Why would you watch another show that doesn’t give you that if this show gives you Disneyland?”
Beyond the once-a-week release method, the Fines will try to create Disneyland by allowing viewers to vote for the show’s winner ahead of the season 1 finale.
Sing It!‘s premise is familiar enough, but the platform is a new one: YouTube Red, the paid subscription service starting to gain steam in the original programming arena. The Fines are YouTube vets, but it marked the first time Mandeville Films went into the digital world.
“Not every story needs to be told with the same distribution mechanism,” producer Todd Lieberman says. “This felt like another way to explore a different version of storytelling. The world of streaming and digital content, it’s almost like there isn’t a difference anymore between television and streaming and digital — it’s all content. How the consumer consumes it is up to them.”
“We’re hoping that this can be continuing the story of the next phase that YouTube is not just what people think it is, and it also can have this type of premium show on it,” Benny says. “We’re interested to see what ends up happening and the hopes this expands the audience out so it isn’t, ‘Oh, a YouTube show?’ It’s, ‘Oh wow, this is on YouTube.'”
Mandeville produced the long-running USA procedural Monk and ABC’s short-lived Wicked City and The Family. What sticks out about YouTube, going away from a traditional network? Abounding creativity. “The end result of this show — success or failure,” Lieberman says, “will be a pure representation of what we as a collective creative group wanted to do.”
The first episode of Sing It! will be available for free Wednesday, while episodes 2-4 will appear on YouTube Red. New shows will be posted Wednesdays at 12 p.m. ET.