We’ve all been told not to congregate in large groups indoors, so fans tuning into the Masked Singer premiere on Wednesday may have been a little surprised to see crowds cheering on the new crop of performers and chanting for the losing contestant to take off their mask like a red-hat-wearing protesters parading through a Target. But fear not: While there was a small group of people allowed into the studio audience, it was mostly TV magic making it seem as though there were hundreds of maskless people jammed together like it was a Trump rally.
“We went above and beyond the outlines of the CDC and local authorities in order to keep people safe,” Masked Singer executive producer Craig Plestis told Deadline of their small studio audience ahead of Wednesday’s premiere. But most of the wide shots involved CGI and close-up crowd reactions were recycled footage from previous seasons filmed in the Before Times. “It feels that through virtual reality and composite and reaction shots, we managed to create the feeling that there were people in the room,” added Rob Wade, Fox Entertainment’s president of alternative entertainment and specials. “It’s going to feel very much like [previous seasons], it’s not going to feel different. You’ll notice that the audience will feel like it’s behind the judges. The one thing I’m expecting is for people to say is ‘How come they’re not COVID friendly? The audience aren’t wearing masks.’ Through various quarantining and various camera tricks, we’ve managed to do it.”
People certainly did ask that while watching Wednesday’s episode, which begs the question “why would they allow people to assume they were going against sound guidelines?” An alternative would have been what The MTV Video Music Awards did in late August and Dancing With The Stars has been doing since its season 29 premiere last week: using an applause track. “Due to COVID-19 we could not have a live audience this season, but we still wanted to capture the feeling of an audience in the ballroom,” DWTS executive producer Andrew Llinares tells The A.V. Club of including not just the sound of applause, but also oohs, boos, and laughter impressively timed to climactic moments in the routines and punchy judges’ comments. “The sound of the audience creates an atmosphere for the show, and in this unusual situation, it was nice to have our viewers at home watch the show and still feel like it’s the show they know and love,” says Llinares. “When you watch the show, you’re actually hearing both the other contestants’ live reactions watching the dances from the first balcony plus the sound of extra audience.” Because that’s just what we need, Carole Baskin’s voice (and tiger snarl) amplified and multiplied.