At home here on Saturday afternoon, Paul Telegdy, who heads up reality programming for NBC, directed his Web browser to a real-time search engine of Twitter messages and checked in on “The Voice,” the Tuesday night singing competition that is his network’s strongest new entry in several years.
There were dozens of Twitter messages each minute from viewers about “The Voice.” “Hey, what’s going on?” he wondered. Then he remembered: the E! channel, an NBC Universal sibling, was running a marathon of the season to date.
“I was sort of overwhelmed by how much interactivity there was,” Mr. Telegdy said the next day, again refreshing the search engine. (“You have to be careful you don’t check every five seconds,” he added.)
Helped along by online chitchat, cable marathons and a cast of four celebrity coaches, “The Voice” is in the midst of a crescendo, as this Tuesday’s show starts a climactic period of live broadcasts and live rejections of contestants. The show, which had its premiere at the end of April, is averaging about 12.9 million viewers, and, more important for NBC, about 7.35 million of them are between the ages of 18 to 49, making it the No. 1 new series of the television season with that group.
Only one network television series is rated more highly than “The Voice” among members of that demographic: “American Idol,” the indefatigable singing competition on Fox.
Any network would be thrilled with that statistic, but particularly NBC, which is deep into a ratings slump many years in the making. Nodding to that, Mr. Telegdy said, “People may joke about this, working at NBC, but it isn’t every day that you make a show where people tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘I love watching your show.’ ”
This kind of reaction, television critics say, is a credit partly to the format, created by a Dutch production company. It starts with celebrity coaches picking a team of singers, sight unseen (their backs are to the stage), then has the individual singers vie against one another in a boxing ring set, with the finalists competing for $100,000 and a Universal Republic record contract.
The blind auditions by the coaches, the inclusion of a “battle” round between teammates and the exclusion of obviously poor singers from the start all helped to distinguish “The Voice” from “Idol.”
NBC acquired the rights to the format last November, and Mr. Telegdy credited the show’s production team — headed by the reality television producer Mark Burnett, who was behind “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” among other shows — with what he called a “mind-boggling” effort to get the show on the air so quickly.
“The timing looked perfect,” the show’s host, Carson Daly, said, given that “Idol” was wrapping up its 10th season when “The Voice” started, and that Fox’s next talent competition, Simon Cowell’s “X Factor,” does not start until the fall.
The four coaches recruited for “The Voice” — Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton — are all active performers; in fact, they will open Tuesday’s show with a medley of Queen songs. They are also active Twitter users, which has helped to stir some of the social media attention around the show.
Trendrr, a company that tracks online chatter about shows, said that “The Voice” has ranked in its top five attention-getters since the premiere. Mark Ghuneim, the chief executive of Trendrr, said Twitter and Facebook were serving as a “real-time co-viewing experience” for the show, assisted by on-screen graphics that cite Twitter and sometimes quote the Twitter messages of the coaches.
“There’s an active encouragement on air to start following the show, with everything that means,” Mr. Telegdy said, from “likes” on Facebook to bonus Web videos on NBC.com.
Taking the social media integrations a step further, selected Twitter messages from viewers will start appearing on the bottom of the screen during the live episodes. Beginning on Tuesday, viewers will start to vote for the performers by phone or at NBC.com. And in a first-of-its-kind partnership with Apple, every time an iTunes customer buys a song by one of the contestants on “The Voice,” that action will count as a vote for that contestant.
Capitalizing to the best extent it can, NBC has lined up two-hour competition shows each Tuesday this month and one-hour results shows on two Wednesdays, June 22 and June 29, the finale.
The track records of reality shows that grab national attention this quickly indicate that their networks do everything to mount second seasons as soon as possible. But Mr. Telegdy has said repeatedly that NBC intends to be highly protective of this emerging hit.
NBC’s schedule for the 2011-12 season, announced in mid-May, brings “The Voice” back in the winter on Monday nights. The network said last week that it would offer a special edition of the show on one of the best platforms in television: the hour after the conclusion of the Super Bowl, on Feb. 5.
In NBC’s scheduling meetings for its 2011-12 season, several executives pressed to get “The Voice” back on the air this fall, teamed with NBC’s most promising pilot, “Smash,” a drama that also has a music theme. But the show’s producers resisted, saying that that swift a turnaround might damage the show, which needs first to scout out another pack of singers with true potential to fill the roster of 32 who make the first cut of the coaches.
But before that “The Voice” has to crown its first champion, and Mr. Telegdy said that Twitter and other Web sites can help. “As the contestants engage the public, and as the coaches engage the public, you start to get a sense of who’s got a following,” he said, “and you start to find out, are they able to engage their fans? Are they able to create a story as an artist that people want to follow?”
Source: New York Times