Exclusive interview with NBC alternative programming executive VP Paul Telegdy, betting big on THE VOICE singing competition series that premieres tonight at 9/8c on NBC
By Robin Rowe
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Hollywood Today) 4/26/2011 – “Can you say a few words about the show?” asks NBC executive Paul Telegdy to Christina Aguilera. “I think you’ve said it all,” says Aguilera, who is interrupting an exclusive press screening of THE VOICE at Universal Studios.
“I’m having the most amazing time on THE VOICE,” says Aguilera. “Root for my team on the show.” Aguilera has popped in on her way to talk about THE VOICE with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. As one of the contestants exclaims on the show, being in the room next to the radiant Aguilera is like looking at the sun. Dazzling.
THE VOICE presents celebrity singing coaches Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton out to discover the best singers and have them compete to win the title of best singer, to be THE VOICE. NBC was the network that tried to define itself without having any shows, with it being all Jay Leno all the time. When that daring plan didn’t work, and the affiliates threatened revolt, the network had to re-invent itself quickly. Key to NBC’s plan is competing with hit “alternative” programming, notably Fox’s American Idol. Can NBC build an Idol-killer? Apparently, it can. THE VOICE has more heart and more touching family moments and is more fun.
“THE VOICE is a very positive show and hugely entertaining,” says Telegdy. “NBC is the most similar to the BBC of the American broadcasters. When it’s great, it’s searingly relevant with quality entertainment.” Telegdy came to NBC from the BBC, where he made his mark with the surprisingly entertaining car show Top Gear. Key to making that show work, one of the longest running reality series on the air, is the close yet competitive/comedic relationship between the show’s hosts. THE VOICE reveals a kittenish yet fiercely competitive Aguilera out to best her male co-hosts who aren’t going to give an inch. This adds an element of fun that goes beyond the music competition of the contestants.
NBC has derived recent success from shows like Celebrity Apprentice, produced by Mark Burnett. He’s also producing THE VOICE. “The reason these stars are sitting there is Mark,” says Telegdy. “They know they can trust him. I was buying a show in November and wanted it on the air in April. Mark was the only choice.
A show like this takes a lot of machines, a lot of editors. It goes to air completely wet. One pass and it’s off. The best editors come from shows like Celebrity Apprentice. They all work for Mark. It’s several dozen editors. Alan Carter, the director, does a lot for us. Really knows his stuff. Great live too.”
Telegdy began listening to country music when he moved to the United States. “In Britain we don’t really have country music.” Telegdy found that having a country star on THE VOICE not only gave it American relevance, but humor. “Blake Shelton is one of the funniest people to walk the Earth.”
While they wanted humor, Telegdy and Burnett didn’t want the show to ever be a farce. “We didn’t want to put a bad singer up there,” says Telegdy. “These artists are very busy. We weren’t going to f**k around with them. You saw Christina [at the screening]. She was here for like twelve seconds.” Because the auditions are blind, only the singer’s voice matters. That means the contestants are not limited by age or appearance. The show makes some surprising choices of contestants. The celebrities’ chairs spin around so they can see the singer only after they’ve chosen the singer to be on their team.
THE VOICE was shot initially at the L.A. Center, then moved as it grew. There are three different sets: the chairs, the boxing ring, and the live show arena. The arena set holds about 1,000 people. “Americas Got Talent has 600,” says Telegdy. “So imagine 400 more. The live shows start June 7th. Warner Brothers Stage 18 is 80,000 square feet on the lot. It’s huge. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the feeling not of a TV show but an arena tour.”
Telegdy may not wake up Wednesday morning with the ratings of American Idol, but he can take satisfaction that NBC now has a show to compete or exceed Idol on all levels, with huge stars, amazing singers, and heartwarming stories. Telegdy says a show can’t be all about second chances like Susan Boyle of Britain’s Got Talent. Maybe not. However, THE VOICE is definitely a second chance for NBC. The series premieres on Tuesday, April 26th, at 9/8c.