Inside Adam Levine's 'Voice' Exit and a Massive Missed Payday

Adam Levine's apparent desire to exit The Voice after 16 seasons is no shocker. It was the news of his departure dropping Friday, just two weeks after NBC confirmed plans for his fall return, that raised eyebrows around Hollywood and beyond.

To be sure, Levine's departure was not planned. The Maroon 5 frontman actually had signed on to appear in two more cycles of The Voice, seasons 17 and 18, but he is said to have grown increasingly anxious in recent weeks to move on. Following that urge came at a remarkably high cost. Sources paint Levine's most recent per-season salary for The Voice at north of $14 million, meaning the deal would have given him close to another $30 million.

Appearing on any reality TV competition with such a rigorous schedule comes at a personal cost. The 40-year-old singer devoted much of the past decade to NBC's enduring hit, which has been pivotal in the network's ratings turnaround from last to first place. But because The Voice audition rounds entail long shoots and substantial edits, and the live shows stretch out over weeks, the payout doesn't appear quite as efficient as some of the more recent reality talent deals. Stars like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Titan Games) or Alec Baldwin (Match Game) can make more than $1 million in a day, knocking out multiple episodes, for as much as $450,000 a pop.

That doesn't include touring and recording, both of which are lucrative endeavors for the singer. Such pop stars as Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus and Pharrell Williams have cycled through as Voice coaches, while Levine and Blake Shelton have remained the only constants on the show (along with host Carson Daly).

Much has been written about Levine's noticeably unenthusiastic appearance at NBCUniversal's May 13 upfront presentation at New York's Radio City Music Hall — where he looked sullen next to more buoyant colleagues Kelly Clarkson, John Legend and Shelton — and the role it may have played in his departure. But reports of the upfront performance angering his NBC bosses are said to be overblown. (It was hardly the only time in history, or even that week, that talent pouted their way through an appearance for advertisers.)

So while Levine's decision to break loose after agreeing to a new deal took many by surprise, multiple sources close to the matter describe it as an "amicable" parting — not that there was much time for acrimony. Word of Levine's departure, broken by Daly on NBC's Today and confirmed by Levine on Instagram, played out almost simultaneously in the press, as it did with The Voice studios Warner Horizon Television and MGM Television.

NBCUniversal is uniquely motivated to maintain good relations with Levine. After all, his work at NBC doesn't end with The Voice. Just four days after announcing his exit, his new music competition show, Songland, premiered to solid first-run sampling: a 1.2 rating among adults 18-49 and nearly 6 million viewers. Levine doesn't appear in Songland, but he is executive producing the series and has been (and will continue to be) involved in its promotion. Network execs have been hot on the project since ordering it in 2018 — one, it's worth noting, that is produced in-house by Universal Television Alternative Studio, unlike The Voice.

Songland, like forthcoming NBC alternative series The Playlist, may ultimately play a bigger role in the network's musical future than The Voice. After 333 episodes, each of which Levine is credited in appearing alongside Shelton, the series' ratings erosion is undeniably steady. Out of broadcast's Top 20 for the first time since it premiered in 2011, The Voice's marquee Monday telecast wrapped the 2018-19 season down 20 percent — ranking below Big Four reality shows America's Got Talent, The Masked Singer, The Bachelor and even Survivor with a 2.1 rating in the key demo.