Carson Daly: How Gordon Ramsay's 'No B.S. Approach' Helped Me Prepare for 'The Voice' (Q&A)
The host opens up to THR about about the show rivaling "American Idol," his "Last Call" history and David Letterman's targeted jokes during the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien shuffle.
Carson Daly’s resume already includes a morning radio show, a late night TV show and an afternoon music video show. On Tuesday, he will add to it a primetime competition show. As host of NBC’s The Voice, Daly will join musical coaches Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton on the network’s heavily promoted American Idol rival.
Days before launch, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Daly to discuss his new gig, other pitches and place in NBC’s otherwise tumultuous late night landscape.
The Hollywood Reporter: You have a packed schedule. What made you decide to add a reality show hosting gig?
Carson Daly: I’ve been doing Last Call for 10 years, and we just got picked up again. I also have a radio show that I do in the morning and I’m raising a 2-year-old, so my life is pretty filled right now. I’ve turned down certain reality shows and hosting opportunities because they just weren’t me. I learned from the first five years of doing the late-night show that coming out and doing a monologue and wearing a tie really wasn’t me. Now in the new format, its a documentary-style show with me on the street, no studio, and our ratings are up 25 percent. When The Voice came along, it offered me an opportunity to work with Mark Burnett, which means we knew it was going to look cinematic and amazing. Now, how is this hot date going to act to the party? I don’t know. But the format, from the Dutch, I loved. I watched the entire season. I didn’t say hello on one episode.
THR: How did it come together?
Daly: I was in [NBC reality chief] Paul Telegdy’s office pitching him my ideas for me one day. Like, hey, here’s a Barbra Walters interview show that I could do. I was trying to drum up business. He said, I think we finally have the right show for you, for Carson Daly, in primetime at NBC and it’s with Mark Burnett. He said it’s a music-competition series and it’s really incredible -- it’s about coaching and finding the next great singer and it starts with the voice. No celebrity bullshit, no you suck. Just a real quality TV show. I couldn’t find a quality opportunity in the last 10 years.
THR: What would you like to do at NBC that you haven’t yet done?
Daly: I love the interviews I do on Last Call; I’m heavily influenced by not just the interviews but also in the storytelling aspect. One of the things we do on Last Call is called the “Spotlight,” it’s the middle portion of the show where we get to find great stories. I think there’s more opportunity to do that on NBC, whether it’s through Tonight, Today or through Dateline or a new thing. That’s what I was talking about.
THR: What else have you pitched? And, for that matter, actively begun exploring?
Daly: One of the things that I was pitching Paul when he showed me The Voice was do a companion show to our New Year’s Eve show that I produce and host. It does well, and so we were looking for a companion show to that on the calendar year -- maybe some sort of summer kickoff on the West Coast. That was one show that I had pitched. Having a rock band or a countdown to the summer, maybe at the Santa Monica Pier, something like that. We have talked about that Walters interview show idea. I love Charlie Rose too – those type of shows.
THR: Does the late-night audience have an appetite for that?
Daly: What is an audience anymore? And we’re talking about a post-Comcast world here now. What I’m pitching is not necessarily something I can do within the boundaries of late-night. What I’m pitching is, "Hey, I’m a talent on your network; these are the things that I think I can do okay at. There’s lots of great content potential here. Let’s do it and let’s put it out there." I’ve found out that through Last Call that a niche audience can keep you around in network TV. Think about it: I make a living on shining a spotlight on people you’ve never heard of and exposing people to new music.
THR: Conan’s short-lived stint on The Tonight Show would suggest niche audiences don’t always keep you around.
Daly: That’s about economics. I shoot my show for very little money, that’s part of it.
THR: Given the turmoil in recent years, has it been difficult to be part of the late-night landscape on NBC?
Daly: Never. Look, I was a bartender and I worked at a doughnut shop in San Francisco. Today is tax day, but I used to do my 1040 EZ tax returns when I made about $18,000 a year doing overnights on Live 105 in San Francisco. I wasn’t 17 or 18; I was 24. It wasn’t that long ago. During the whole Leno-Conan thing, Letterman would take shots at me every single night. He was like, "Oh that guy Carson Daly, he’s like Pluto -- he’s not on another planet, he is another planet." I was laughing, sitting there thinking, "David Letterman is there talking about me. I should be so lucky." So I’m happy to have my job.
THR: As you’ve preparing to host The Voice, who have you looked to as role models?
Daly: Gordon Ramsay is somebody I’ve watched a lot of in the last few years because my girlfriend is a diehard foodie. I watch a lot of Hell’s Kitchen and what I like about him is his honesty and the way he carries himself on camera. Music is my cooking -- it’s what I’m passionate about — and the artists are like my chefs. I thought a about what I enjoy when I watch him on TV, and I realized that it’s his no B.S. approach.
THR: Months ago everyone seemed to think Idol wasn’t going to be the force that it still is. With Idol continuing to drive ratings and Simon Cowell’s X Factor coming, is there room for another music competition show?
Daly: I think we’re a fresh take on what’s already really successful in music competition series. We have four of the biggest names of music coaching others. To watch a 20-year-old sit with Christina Aguilera and get a voice lesson is really fun and certainly different. So I’d argue The Voice is the richest musical experience of any show on television.
THR: Any last minute jitters as premiere day approaches?
Daly: I’m Irish, I was trained to worry. My mom always said that it’s not just about the trip. It’s about planning the trip, being on the trip and remembering the trip. I really apply that to this. I don’t want to get caught in drinking The Voice Kool-Aid of “It’s a hit show, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be this, it’s going to be that.” I’m really proud of it; the music talent is exceptional and it looks amazing. I hope America watches it, and other than that all I can do is enjoy the journey.
I’ll admit that there are times when I worry that The Voice doesn’t have enough train wreck. All the calls on my radio show are about Gary Busey and Meatloaf’s fights on American Idol and I think to myself, “We don’t have that.” But then I think about the way my girlfriend and her friend all talk about So You Think You Can Dance, and it doesn’t go there either. It’s quality in its own space -- it’s good television and people are really passionate about that show. I’m not saying that The Voice is like So You Think You Can Dance, but we’re not Meatloaf and Gary Busey.
The Voice premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.