Fox’s Name That Tune is the latest classic gameshow to be rebooted. But while it has the classic “Golden Medley” bonus round, it’s not leaning as heavily into nostalgia as ABC’s revivals of shows such as Match Game and Press Your Luck.
It differs in other ways, too: unlike Fox’s own The Masked Singer’s artificial audience, there’s a live studio audience.
As it airs its final four episodes over the next two weeks (Fox, Wednesdays at 8), I wanted to learn more about how this revival came together and then was produced, audience and all.
I interviewed Paul Franklin, one of the co-founders of Eureka Productions, the production company that created ABC’s Holey Moley and the just-announced Frogger reality competition, in addition to shows like Netflix’s Dating Around.
Why Name That Tune doesn’t look like the 1980s version
There have been many versions of Name That Tune over more than 70 years: NBC and CBS aired it in the 1950s, and then there was the 1970s syndicated version, which aired at the same time as two short-lived daytime versions on NBC. Then it returned in the 1980s as a syndicated show, $100,000 Name that Tune.
“It’s such a heritage brand,” Franklin said, so the first task was “to go back and just look at the many different iterations and versions over the decades, and how they worked—everything from how the band was involved or not to what games worked or didn’t work.”
The goal was “a modern take on the best elements of what the show originally was,” he said. “We didn’t want to replicate the style and the look, but we certainly wanted to tap into the DNA that made the show so unique in the first place and bring that into 2021.”
They did consider “[going] in that direction” of replicating an earlier version’s look and feel, like other game shows have, “but it felt like the way we were heading was taking the elements and kind of freshening them up. We pivoted at a certain point: Let’s look at more modern set design, modern architecture. Let’s let’s make it a very modern version of the show,” Franklin said.
Randy Jackson and Jane Krakowski were ‘super fans’ of the show they’re now on
One of those elements that the production looked at across the years was Name That Tune’s band, and Franklin said, “We really wanted to make the band a central point and a main feature, and I think more than any other version of the show we really put a spotlight on the band and Randy’s role as bandleader.”
That’s Randy Jackson, of course, original American Idol judge, who was “a massive fan of this show for many, many years,” Franklin said. And there was another connection: The people who owned the rights to the Name That Tune format, the format holders Ralph Rubenstein and Noah Rubenstein, “knew Randy already.”
Host Jane Krakowski was also a super-fan who was already interested in Name That Tune. “Probably a couple of years back, she was seeking out who had the format of the show. So she was a fan of it,” Franklin said. “Jane takes risks with her career, and she’s a triple threat as people know; she can do a bit of everything. She never hosted an unscripted game show, and she wanted to do that.”
Before they went to Australia to film, Jane and Randy rehearsed via Zoom, and Franklin said “they clicked straight away,” Franklin said. “We’re really blessed and fortunate that they are our host and bandleader.”
Name That Tune’s exacting rule
The most well-known game on Name That Tune is probably the Bid-a-Note round, where contestants go back and forth and bid. Each offers to name a song in a certain number of notes, and they go back and forth, with the number of notes decreasing from 10. Finally, one contestant tells the other, “name that tune,” and Randy Jackson plays the number of notes they bid.
In episode two, contestants Ciara and Nicole faced off in the Bid-A-Note round, and the Nicole identified the final song by saying, “Play that Funky Music White Boy.” But Jane Krakowski told her answer was incorrect. Ciara easily stole the answer, because the title is actually “Play that Funky Music”; “white boy” is just part of the song’s lyrics.
It seemed to me like Nicole was really shortchanged, as she lost the game because of that answer. Also, I couldn’t remember an emphasis on giving the exact title. A friend who’s a game show aficionado and historian reminded me that, in earlier versions of Name That Tune, Nicole’s answer would have been correct, because it didn’t matter if the title had extraneous words in it.
I asked executive producer Paul Franklin about that decision: to require contestants to get the titles exactly right.
“It was a conscious decision, and there was much debate as you can imagine,” he told me. “Do we keep it really loose? In the old days, they had it pretty loose and sometimes they’d stumbled through the words or half-sing to get the title in there.”
“We wanted to be pretty tight and pretty strict on what you can and can’t do. It’s called Name That Tune and we wanted to keep it very precise and accurate to what it was,” Franklin said. “We didn’t want it too loose, so that was the path we went down.”
“It can be contentious at times, because you see someone maybe miss out. But it’s not the title of the song, and it’s called Name That Tune. That makes it dramatic at times; you see people who miss out, and the other person uses that to their advantage,” he said.
“I don’t think it hurt the game,” Franklin added. “It just adds a bit of drama as you go through. It didn’t happen that often but you know when it pops up, it causes a bit of a sharp intake of breath from the audience.”
Also not hurting the game: some edits, which cut out moments that don’t affect the outcome of the game.
As BuzzerBlog noticed, the dollar amounts changed from episode to episode during the premiere: “In game one the first round’s scoring was $1K/$2K/$4K/$5K/$6K and Bid-A-Note had 4 songs at $10K/$15K/$20K/$25K. In game two the first round’s scoring was $1K/$2K/$3K/$4K/$6K and Bid-A-Note had three songs at $10K/$15K/$20K.”
Franklin confirmed that “there’s a little bit of editing that takes place,” and “the shows are very packed” with just 42 minutes for two full games. Anything that was cut out “was really just to keep the show moving and keep it entertaining,” he said.
Filming with an audience of 300 in 2020
Speaking of the audience, there’s a live studio audience! For a show filmed in late 2020! With American contestants!
The audience members you can see in this clip from episode 7 are actually there, reacting to the actual game play.
So how exactly was all this able to happen?
Eureka is an Australian and U.S. production company, and they filmed Name That Tune in filmed in Australia at the Sydney Convention Centre in November and December 20202, with a live studio audience.
The production was “operating under safety precautions and following all the rules,” but Franklin noted those rules in Australia are “nowhere near as tight as what you would have in America.” Shows here are not filming with audiences, and of course, we have the more deaths from the virus than any other country on Earth.
Name That Tune had 300 people in its audiences, though Franklin told me that while “it looks like a crowded studio, people are actually grouped together” so that it’s not one massive crowd, and the production “shot in a way that made it feel even more full.”
“We wanted that live audience, we didn’t want that cold studio where you don’t have an audience. It’s very much just for the cast and the band—we wanted that vibe there, and it really played well to the contestants competing. It added stakes. It helped with the band because of the noise to perform in front of. Jane loved it; Randy loved it,” he said.
“We’re very fortunate in Australia because they’ve been highly, highly strict,” Franklin added. “Although it’s hard at times, the upside is we haven’t got Covɪd hardly at all throughout the country. So, yeah, it was great to be able to do that; we’re very fortunate.”
Casting American expats as contestants
While Jane Krakowski and Randy Jackson came to Australia to film the show, the contestants did not, even though they are all Americans. They’re “Americans who reside in Australia,” Franklin told me.
I asked how challenging casting was, both in terms of finding Americans—there are hundreds of thousands of American expats there, Franklin said—but especially finding people who could play this particular game well.
“It’s a hard game to play,” he said. “You want to see success; you want to see the highs and lows of people getting things right. They have to have that skill. If you’re casting Ninja Warrior, it’d probably be easier to find people who have the physical ability. But to actually have that recall of memory to hear a tune, and then go, Ah! It’s that. … it’s only a small group of people that have the skills and ability to to recall that quickly.”
But ultimately, they did find “enough people to populate the show and see great players” throughout the season.
Franklin told me, “it’s trying times all over the planet, so to actually get a show made in Australia and get a live audience with show—it’s great. We’re thrilled.”