Why Rudy Giuliani’s Reveal of The Masked Singer Failed

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Wednesday night the most unpredictable happened: The Masked Singer revealed that Rudy Giuliani is the newest contestant in disguise. Few people at home were shocked — Deadline reported on the former New York City mayor’s performance on the show in February — but when Giuliani repeated his rendition of George Thorogood and the Destroyers “Bad to the Bone,” Judge walked out. Ken Jeong away stage in apparent horror. It’s no surprise that the show’s producers brought in former President Donald Trump’s adviser in an effort to attract attention. But the fact that the gamble didn’t work should be.

Television shows, be it news shows or reality shows, book controversial lightning rod dudes to get ratings. It is, to use a cliché, one of the oldest tricks in the book. In fact, it’s a trick The Masked Singer has pulled off before; the show featured former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as a contestant in early 2020. However, that performance was drowned out by news that Tom Hanks had Covid-19. Giuliani’s appearance, meanwhile, has been overshadowed (among other things) by the fact that he has been subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the January 6 U.S. Capitol uprising for perpetuating false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

When the show aired Wednesday night, Twitter flared up with comments — largely negative — about Giuliani’s appearance. But all that chatter, typically gold for a TV show trying to attract viewers, didn’t translate into huge ratings. The show drew just 3.6 million viewers, the lowest for the season to date. Those who did tune in, it seems, did so only to verify that the dystopian moment they’d been reading about actually happened — and that Jeong walked away, which he did, proclaiming, “I’m done.”

Maybe so are the viewers. As much as they love to see train wrecks played out on their TV screens, the failure of Giuliani’s appearance in The Masked Singer to get reviews shows that there are limits to this kind of stuntcasting. Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Dancing with the Stars tiptoeing to the line; Giuliani seems to have crossed it. Sometimes lightning rods just make you blow up.

The ratings for The Masked Singer come at a precarious time for network television. Yes, the industry has faced stiff competition from streaming services for years, but lately TV broadcasting has fallen far behind. Just this week, Nielsen reported that streaming content accounted for about 30 percent of viewers’ TV usage in March, while the share of broadcasts fell below 25 percent. Cable TV took up most of the viewing time – 37 percent – but that was largely due to news channels covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And if we’ve learned anything this week, it’s that traditional TV can’t just jump into the streaming game and snag viewers, even if that streaming service is offering news. (RIP, CNN+.)

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