'The Voice': Paul Telegdy on Season 8 Tweaks, Pursuing Dream Coach Adele

NBC's president of late-night and alternative programming talks with THR about why the singing competition is expanding the show's audience engagement.
Brian Bowen Smith

The Voice season eight kicked off with a bang Monday as Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams and returning coach Christina Aguilera added their first crooners to their teams while Adam Levine wasn't able to convince a single singer to join his.

The show's ability to switch up many of its coaches — only Levine and Shelton have been with the series the entire run, while the other two spots have been filled by Williams, Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Shakira, Usher and Gwen Stefani — has led to a freshness every season that's rare in reality television.

Paul Telegdy, NBC's president of late-night and alternative programming, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the coaching lineup, when there might be a panel that has two female coaches, his dream coach get and more.

This is the first time this coaching lineup has worked together. What has surprised you about their dynamic?

Whenever we make changes — whether Gwen comes back is part of the discussion; we loved her, the audience loved her, everyone here at NBC absolutely adored Gwen as well. She proved an incredibly popular component of the panel as well. Usher, beloved and so talented and such a wonderful guy. And Shakira as well — she just had a baby and is back in Barcelona [but] she could be back. Change is something we've embraced on the show. I'm not saying any combination of [who sits] between Blake and Adam could work, but so far, the format is what really works. And that means we're confident we can make changes. Blake and Adam have a transcendent relationship with each other. It's been called a bromance, and they're over that [term], we have to find a new name for it. But it's fun.

The surprises were super feisty Christina very focused and very committed to the process. The surprise was Pharrell's [magnetism] — he could have gestured with his finger and they would have been on their way anyway. That will definitely mix it up. The composition of the teams — and you won't know this from the first episode — is pretty [evenly] spread. There are some very memorable contestants and amazing talent. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed [the premiere] and this combination [of coaches]. Who's going to do it next? And that becomes my job on an almost daily basis and the planning process. Because the next time we tape [the blind auditions] is in June, so it comes around quicker than you think it.

Read more: Christina Aguilera on Returning to 'The Voice,' Guesting on 'Nashville'

Given the show's constant production, how much time is there to step back and evaluate what works? Or does it have to be done on the fly?

It's a year-around process where parts of The Voice are a machine — the casting process is year-round, parts of it are always humming at an even pace. The creative interrogation of what do we do, how do we change the format, the thousands of small changes, the few big changes, that's examined on a year-round basis as we get new data: as we get the feedback from fans, websites, social, research. We do that. The great thing is we have data and feedback from audiences. We also hear the answer to the question who would you like to see as a coach on The Voice? And it's names you would expect — people who are making a difference in music, people who are making a difference in young artists' lives. Since season two when people understood what the job was, we've heard a lot of the same names. And the good news is we go after them, and they want to do the show.

Who is your ultimate dream "get" to have as a coach on this show at this point?

For me it's a mix of who is around. Of course, there are artists who fall under the "Thank you Captain Obvious, that would be marvelous" like Adele, because I would hang on Adele's every word. She's a very private person. She's probably the biggest force in music in the 21st century and I can't discount her. Another thing that motivates us from a marketing [view] as a show that is maturing quickly because we run it twice a year, is to have a big reason to get people to tune in this season, next season. There's no doubt that curiosity about whether or not someone fits into that sitcom [of Blake and Adam]. There are some sitcoms I would never recast — [with] Two and a Half Men's finale, we all know it, really, was the Charlie Sheen show. But still, millions of people tuned in to watch the first Ashton Kutcher episode. They quickly tuned out. It was massive. [If you feel] "That's one of my favorite shows, I wonder if that person could take up the mantle?" So we always have that [change] as a marketing perk. But we don't look at it as a marketing [move]; you need to tell a different story. So this season, we have Christina's return from having the baby, Pharrell's season two, what's happening with Adam [and] Blake? You need to tell a different story, season to season. What will help you do that is a new coach.

As we saw in the season premiere, Christina played the card of being the only woman on the panel, and she certainly isn't the first to use that as an attempt to draw a contestant in. What are the conversations like in terms of potentially having a panel composed of more than one female coach in a single season?

We will definitely try that in the imminent several seasons. We think it would work. Sometimes it feels like it needs more girl power. Christina is a very strong woman, Shakira is a feisty one, too. It's not about needing strength in numbers. I think they've done it in a couple of places around the world [where The Voice airs local versions], and it's provided a good switch-up to the format. We're looking at that combination.

What format changes can viewers expect this season?

This is not a year for radical changes, from a format point of view. Building off last season — which, by the way, in the absence of a format story, we go to the next thing, which is viewer engagement in the digital story. We've been seeing a seismic change in how people interact with TV shows. You go back 10 years, it's a toll-free number, then social media happens. Our own app was astonishingly — and I mean a factor of 10 -- more successful than any other voting method. That was almost the beta version of what we're unveiling [this week] for the show. I think a lot of the story is going to be how can I impact the outcome of the show differently, and in a way that feels more natural. We've abandoned the "wait until the show [ends] to vote." It's more fluid engagement. That's working really well. We're expanding on the audience engagement tools that are part of the storytelling.

When it comes down to the live rounds, the cuts are often brutal, losing multiple singers per week. Has there been talk about extending the season so when it comes down to the finalists, you're not losing quite so many people at once?

You won't find that many people — either in my job or the production side — advocating for more Voice; quite the reverse. I feel that we're a slightly different story going into the live shows [this season] in terms of the numbers. I can't remember exactly what they are but we're tinkering with how it plays out live. But in terms of blinds, battles, knockouts and the playoffs, that kind of structure remains the same, including the playoffs being live. Not radical format changes, but some pretty significant tweaks in how the viewers will engage.

The show added the wild card to get into the finale last season. Did you feel that worked, and will that return with any changes?

Yeah, that worked well. That drove a huge amount of social chatter and engagement. It was a bit of an obvious one horse, two horse race [last season], so we're looking at how to make that more exciting for the viewer. The other thing that worked phenomenally well that we weren't expecting to work, was the original songs we did in the finale. All three of the top 3's records were major sensations. They were perfect for them, and elaborately woven kind of stories for the individual contestants. That's something we're going to amplify. I don't know where in the competition, because can you imagine finding 12 amazing songs or six amazing songs [for multiple weeks]?

Last season, the finale came down to Team Adam vs. Team Blake. As someone with no real horse in the race, do you prefer it when the competition is down to a couple of coaches? Or would you prefer it to be more spread out?

The ideal thing is each coach has an amazing finalist. It's a competitive format with real rules, so the cookie crumbles differently each time. People forget, Usher won with a great contestant. At a certain point, it goes to the audience connecting with a contestant. I think every suspects that Blake has a bit of secret sauce with his relationship with a contingency that is extremely loyal. But Usher won, and Adam['s fans are] extremely loyal ± it's anyone's game at this stage in this season.

The Voice airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Twitter: @marisaroffman

comments powered by Disqus