The Hollywood Reporter Unveils 2013 Reality Heat List
This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Mark Burnett is in a great mood. It's March 26, the morning after the premiere of season four of The Voice, and the prolific producer is beaming about the stellar ratings.
"It's a really good show, so it's really gratifying when a lot of work goes in and it worked," he says.
Burnett and NBC reality chief Paul Telegdy took a monumental risk with the fourth season of NBC's biggest hit by playing musical chairs with the coaches' bench, replacing Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green with Shakira and Usher. Switching up the judges' table has been a sign of troubled times and a precursor to weaker ratings on other reality shows (ahem, American Idol).
"The playbook says don't change a thing. You've got the cast that's working, why switch it up?" notes Telegdy, who adds that Aguilera and Green would be welcome to return. "I think that's true if it's one season a year, but when we went twice per year, we felt the audience and the contestants would fancy a bit of a change."
But the question remained whether the new -- and arguably lesser-known, especially in the case of Shakira -- faces would be able to bring in as many viewers as season three's crew.
The answer has been a resounding yes. The two-hour March 25 premiere featuring Usher, Shakira, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton averaged a 4.8 rating in the prized 18-to-49 demo and 13.6 million viewers overall, beating the fall season-three premiere by about 13 percent.
Burnett, who has produced, as he puts it, "more than 1,200 hours of American TV," credits the show's success to the positivity it promotes -- unlike most TV singing competitions.
"On other shows, some judge leaves the show, and it's all acrimony and mudslinging," says Burnett. "With us, everyone is congratulating everyone else."
The main "other show" always has been Fox's Idol, which has been atop the ratings leader board since its inception in 2002. But Idol has been singing the blues this year, with its season 12 launch dropping 19 percent from the previous season's premiere and the most recent episode (March 28) logging the lowest demo score in the show's 11-year history. This precipitous drop in Idol's ratings allowed The Voice (with its season bow) to surpass Idol for the week -- a first.
The Fox show still has the upper hand as a star factory. "We don't currently measure the success of a show like The Voice by the record sales of the artists that come from it, but it's very important for us to produce a star," says Telegdy. "We're very aware of that." He insists he doesn't dwell on comparing his show to Idol, however. "That seems to be an obsession of theirs but not of ours," he says. "We're making a very different show."