'The Voice': The Real Backstory Behind NBC's Hit; Why Christina Aguilera Gets $225,000 a Show
In The Hollywood Reporter cover story, the executives, producers and talent behind the pricey singing competition -- costing $2.3 million per hour -- reveal why they were confident in the show, their shock at the initial ratings and what's in store.
For the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter, out in Los Angeles and New York on Thursday, Kim Masters and Lacey Rose sat down with the executives, producers and talent who turned The Voice into fourth-place NBC's biggest hit in five years.
Among the revelations:
THE IDEA WAS BORN OUT OF SIMON COWELL'S IDOL EXIT
The idea for a singing competition on NBC started a year ago, when Simon Cowell was preparing to exit Fox's American Idol. NBC head of alternative programming Paul Telegdy didn't know about The Voice format yet but thought there might be an opportunity for a show that felt "like an arena experience for a music fan." So they turned to reality guru Mark Burnett, who was working with NBC at the time on Celebrity Apprentice and had done Rock Star, which lasted only two seasons at CBS; he wanted to take another swing at the music world. "He said, 'I feel like I have unfinished business -- I really want to crack this space,' " Telegdy says.
JEFF GASPIN PUSHED NBC TO FIND A HOOK
The concept wasn't crystallized, but it would involve three to four star judges from different genres who would mentor unknown singers. Telegdy and his team began crafting a wish list that included Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine. By August 2010, they already were hunting for contestants, but when the idea was pitched the idea to Jeff Gaspin, then-chairman of NBCU Television Entertainment, they hit a wall. What's differentiating about this show, he asked? Soon, Telegdy heard about The Voice of Holland. It came from John de Mol, who had launched international hit formats Big Brother and Deal or No Deal. The hook was the blind auditions, where the "coaches" only hear -- not see -- the contestants. "Mark and I looked at each other and said, 'Oh my God, how could we be so stupid not to think of this ourselves?,' " says Telegdy. "John will hate seeing this in print, but I did think to myself, 'There's a reason John de Mol has a plane and a billion dollars."
CHRISTINA AGUILERA IS PAID MORE THAN $225,000 AN EPISODE
The Voice format was also being shopped to CBS, which would balk at the high production and acquisition costs. Telegdy did not: "I was willing to pay a premium." In those early days, the cost per hour was $1.5 million. By the time it jelled, the number was at $2.3 million, more than the network would pay to license a first-year hourlong (about $2 million). Knowledgeable sources say celebrity coach Aguilera is pulling down more than $225,000 per hour; the other coaches -- Levine, Shelton and Green -- are getting about $75,000 each. The story reveals how the execs wanted talent who could actually perform and had current musical credibility.
NBC CONSIDERED APPROACHING JOHN MAYER AS A COACH
The first person locked for the show was Carson Daly, formerly of MTV's Total Request Live and now host of NBC's Last Call With Carson Daly. “I’ve been the caboose -- a pretty no-frills caboose, mind you -- for this network for 11 seasons,” Daly says. Meanwhile, the four celebrity coaches all say they were lured by the show's positive message and mentoring aspect. “It’s not showcasing people who suck and making a mockery of anybody,” Shelton says. “It’s just about good singers who all get that it’s a competition show.” John Mayer was considered in the process, sources confirm.
BOB GREENBLATT SENT JIMMY KIMMEL CHAMPAGNE AFTER HE MOCKED NBC
During NBC's upfront presentation in May, Greenblatt told the crow the show as "a rare gift from God." At the ABC presentation the next day, Jimmy Kimmel stood up and said, "God has nothing to do with what's going on at NBC. God stopped watching NBC after Friends." Greenblatt sent a note to Kimmel and a bottle of champagne: "Dear Jimmy, You're a gift from God, too. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Cheers."
WHAT WILL CHANGE IN SEASON TWO
All four coaches are expected to be back for the second season, and de Mol says he envisions five to six audition episodes (up from only two this year). Telegdy is eager to build the backstories of the contestants and depict more of the coaching process in longer "battle round" episodes. And if all continues to go well, NBC hopes to have two installments of Voice -- one in the fall and one in the spring -- for the 2012-13 season. NBC also is looking at other ways of exploiting the show's success -- possibly a tour with some, if not all, of the coaches and an album featuring songs like their Queen medley.
Click here to read the full story from this week's The Hollywood Reporter.
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