'America's Got Talent': 'Big' Format Changes, Tougher Judges

NBC America's Got Talent Panel - H 2013

NBC America's Got Talent Panel - H 2013

America's Got Talent faces a new challenge as it heads into its eighth season.

Replacing Sharon Osbourne behind the judges table are Heidi Klum and Mel B, who made their debut at NBCUniversal summer press day Monday alongside returnees Howard Stern and Howie Mandel. In addition to moving to New York's storied Radio City Music Hall when live shows begin, producers hinted at other tweaks being made to the new season.

"We're making some changes around the way we do storytelling," executive producer Sam Donnelly told reporters, downplaying modifications. "They're all subtle changes rather than actual big format ones."

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She added: "Generally it's a freshening up of how we tell stories, some backstage reality. We get to some of these guys (the judges) in more candid moments, which will be interesting. They don't know that yet."

Executive producer Jason Raff told The Hollywood Reporter later that having four judges, instead of three, "will add new story lines": "Most viewers won't notice it; we're showing more of the chaos that happens backstage."

"Having two new judges is a huge change for the show. Sharon had been with the show since the beginning (Osbourne was a judge since season two)," Raff said, adding that adding another judge gave "more experience to the table." "Two very opinionated people is definitely going to change the whole dynamic."

Mandel -- who dropped an F-bomb when Klum revealed that editors have to "snip snip snip" the footage sometimes -- noted that this season, it will be tougher for competitors to get through to the next round just based on the math. When two judges like someone and two judges don't, the competitor won't move forward. They require a true majority with three "yes" votes. "That's a big format change," Mandel countered.

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Ratings were down last season, and Raff attributed that to the earlier 8 p.m. slot. "NBC made a big decision this year which was to move it back to its original time starting at 9 to 11," Raff told THR. "I think in the summer at 8, the hut level is so low."

"That's part of the summer: People are out, it's still light out at 8 o'clock and so generally when you're on at 8, that's not the best time to be on in the summer," he said. "Nine o'clock is when people are starting to get back from their picnics and that has proven in the past to be a better time slot for us."

Another factor last season was that the program came up against the 2012 Summer Olympics and election coverage.

"There was a lot of stuff that was going on last year that disrupted our broadcast," Raff explained, who said the plan this season was for America's Got Talent to run uninterrupted in the summer. "It's up to NBC whether stuff changes but yeah."

Stern, who jabbed at his fellow cohorts during the session ("Didn't you guys get the menu? I'm the star of the show!" he deadpanned after Klum kept getting asked questions at start of the panel), is upping the ante this season. His goal? To search for an "international superstar."

In regards to Osbourne's fallout and eventual departure, Raff admitted to THR that he "didn't really learn anything." "She was done with the show and she went through her thing and it was a chance for us to try something different."

America's Got Talent premieres at 9 p.m. June 4 on NBC.

E-mail: Philiana.Ng@thr.com
Twitter: @insidethetube