After his network said no to his pitch, Jimmy Fallon and his production partners brought Lip Sync Battle to corporate competitors at the Viacom-owned Spike TV, where it instantly became a hit. A clip from the show of actress Anne Hathaway swinging on a giant wrecking ball to emulate Miley Cyrus performing Wrecking Ball has been watched online more than 10 million times.
When Jimmy Fallon sought to turn the popular lip sync competition feature from “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” into a television series, NBC turned down the idea — a decision that at least initially seems like an embarrassing mistake.
Fallon and his production partners instead brought “Lip Sync Battle” to corporate competitors at the Viacom-owned Spike TV, where it instantly became a hit. A clip from the show of actress Anne Hathaway swinging on a giant wrecking ball to emulate Miley Cyrus performing “Wrecking Ball” has been watched online more than 10 million times.
“People are responding to music that they love and to celebrities performing in a different way,” said Casey Patterson, executive producer of the series for Spike. “It’s like ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It’s always a treat to see celebrities moving out of their comfort zone.”
Celebrities are calling Spike “every day” to get on the show, she said, including people who won the competition on episodes that haven’t aired yet wondering if they will be invited back.
So where was NBC?
The network declined to comment on why it passed on “Lip Sync Battle.” NBC airs two cycles of “The Voice” each year and the summertime hit “America’s Got Talent,” so it could be at its limit of talent competitions. And when the show was first pitched to NBC, it reportedly featured civilian competitors — not celebrities — making for an entirely different experience.
Spike was pitched the show more than a year ago, Patterson said. The series was pitched to Spike as a celebrity contest, not with civilians.
NBC Universal owns several cable networks, including USA, Bravo, E! Entertainment, Oxygen and Esquire, where a show with the audience of “Lip Sync Battle” would be a game-changer, as it has been for Spike. It’s not clear which of those networks, if any, was offered a chance at the show.
Perhaps because of the potential embarrassment, the pitching process is now akin to a state secret. Fallon was not available to speak about it, and a spokeswoman said workers at his company, Eight Million Plus Productions, would not comment.
It wasn’t a slam-dunk decision for Spike to pick it up. The lip sync battles on “The Tonight Show” weren’t as popular as they later became, and, because of the need to get clearances for music used on the show, it wasn’t necessarily cheap to produce, she said.
Spike sought a series that would crystallize its new direction — the network wants to broaden an audience dominated by young men — but the strategy wasn’t known at the time. So far, this has worked spectacularly well: The show’s audience is 58 percent female.
Fallon’s production work has otherwise borne little fruit. NBC premiered his company’s sitcom, “Guys With Kids,” in September 2012, but it lasted only five months. Fox bought “Bad Seeds,” the company’s idea for a drama about teenage vigilantes, but it never made it to series. NBC is making a pilot this spring of “Sharing,” a workplace comedy from Fallon’s team, but there’s no guarantee that it will be picked up.
With “Lip Sync Battle,” Fallon hit pay dirt. And NBC is on the outside looking in.