Tuesday, May 10, 2011


NBC is humming a rare tune of relief as newest singing competition The Voice provides a desperately needed boost to the fourth-place network.

The 10-week series premiered with 11.8 million viewers on April 26, then climbed to 12.6 million last week, echoing the word-of-mouth lift experienced by previous reality hits.

More impressive is the show's appeal to young-adult viewers sought by advertisers: In that measure, the show ranked third last week, just 10% below Thursday's American Idol.

This, for a show assembled in just four months, overcoming "huge skepticism" based on "the incumbency of that monster franchise" Idol, says NBC reality chief Paul Telegdy.

"Something buzzworthy and growing week to week is a shot in the arm they definitely need," says analyst Sam Armando of Chicago ad firm SMGx. And the show's early promise, coupled with a growing Idol, potentially dilutes prospects for Simon Cowell's long-gestating The X Factor, which is due on Fox this fall.

Why is The Voice (Tuesday night, 10 ET/PT) hitting high notes? "The coaches have huge fan bases, the chemistry between the coaches is incredible, there's a level of singing that is really high quality, and the elements within the show are really surprising," says executive producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice).

As on X Factor, the judges double as mentors (here they're called coaches), so they're both sizing up and rooting for contestants. The choice of four from separate genres —Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green and Maroon 5's Adam Levine — marks a deliberate attempt to broaden the show's appeal, Burnett says.

But the coaches were concerned about copying Idol's template. "They said, 'We don't want to be on a show where you deliberately bring out people who can't sing to make comedy out of it.' It's a friendly competition without any need to feel mean, and it works," Burnett says.

Previous episodes featured "blind" auditions, in which contestants sang as the coaches listened with their backs turned. Those who liked the singer pushed a red button that turned their chairs around; if more than one did so, the singer got to choose which team to join.

Tonight marks the start of a four-week "battle" round, with one-hour episodes in a later, less competitive time slot. Each week, two of each coach's eight team members compete in a duet, and the coach must eliminate one of them. In acquiring rights to Dutch hit The Voice of Holland, "this was the phase of the competition that sold us on the format," Telegdy says.

The show begins four weeks of possibly longer live episodes June 7. Remaining team members will be cut both by viewer votes and coaches. The winner among sole survivors from each team will be revealed on the June 29 finale. The prize: $100,000 and a recording contract.


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