Production began this week on NBC's a capella competition The Sing-Off, which is being pre-taped over the next few weeks to air this fall.
That means even though the show has been upgraded to regular series status, NBC and the show's producers have opted not to try and make The Sing-Off a live TV event (in the vein of American Idol or The Voice).
That's partly to accommodate the college students who make up many of the show's a capella groups. "If the shows were live between September and December, we wouldn't be able to have them in the competition," says NBC alternative series executive vice president Paul Telegdy. "It's one of the reasons we always shoot it at a certain time of year, as we don't want to disadvantage the collegiate groups."
Because it's pre-taped, The Sing-Off also doesn't include a viewer vote as part of its elimination process. But Telegdy believes that's an advantage: A capella singing is a highly technical music form — and the executive says he wouldn't want the show to turn into another popularity contest. "This is a very specific competition," he says. "That's the differentiation, we really rely on the judges' expertise and detailed analysis. What these guys are doing is extremely complex."
The final episode of The Sing-Off will be live, however, which means viewers will indeed get to vote for the show's ultimate winner. That finale is currently scheduled to air on Monday, Nov. 28.
The Sing-Off also pre-taped its shows (with a live finale) in 2009 and 2010, back when the competition aired as a weeklong special event during the holidays.
But now that the vocal contest is heading into fall and being expanded into a two-hour weekly showcase, it will pit 16 a capella groups against each other (up from 10 last year), competing for a cash prize and a Sony Music deal. "The caliber of these groups grows and grows," Telegdy says. "It's people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, races and creeds. And age-wise it's incredibly diverse, from teens to people more seasoned."
Telegdy says there are a capella groups that now organize specifically for the series, and that past contestants are now forming other groups. In one example, Jeremy Lister — a tenor for last season's second-place Sing-Off finisher, Street Corner Symphony — has now formed a new a capella group for The Sing-Off and is serving as its musical director.
On Thursday, The Sing-Off's season premiere episode was taped at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif., as the first eight groups performed in front of judges and a live audience. The other eight groups were set to compete Friday night for episode two.
Two groups were eliminated on Thursday, with another two set to be cut on Friday. That will leave 12 groups heading into episode three; NBC is scheduled to air a total of 11 episodes this season. Despite the sheer number of people who will be privy to the competition's results — not only studio audience members, but friends and family of the show's 16 competing groups — Telegdy says he's not worried about spoilers leaking out.
Telegdy says he's particularly proud of the show's choice for new judge, singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, who has experience performing with an a capella group in college. Bareilles, who replaces Nicole Scherzinger (now on Fox's The X-Factor), joins returning judges Ben Folds (Ben Folds Five) and Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men).
Other tweaks to the show include an enhanced set and more weekly challenges, Telegdy says. "We're always evolving the show and challenging ourselves to do better."
The Sing-Off's third season premieres on Monday, Sept. 19, at 8/7c.