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SYDNEY – Nine Network Australia looks to have a hit on it hands with the Sunday premiere of The Voice Australia becoming the highest-rated new show on television for the year.
The first of the blind auditions, introducing coaches Keith Urban, Joel Madden, Seal and Delta Goodrem and uncovering a new star in 19 year old former foster child Karise Eden, was watched by an average 2.9 million viewers nationally. The show won every major demographic and was the top-rated show on one of the most competitive nights of the TV year when it debuted against Seven Network’s Dancing With The Stars and Ten’s The Biggest Loser.
Nine needs a major hit — it’s been sitting a distant second to rival the Seven Network for the last two years and the gap has been widening in recent months.
The Talpa format, in the works here since mid 2011, may provide the bedrock for a ratings resurgence as Nine launches its other big-ticket programs this week: the home renovation format The Block and Celebrity Apprentice.
After Nine acquired the rights to the format last year — an unusual move as Nine hasn’t had a talent format since 2006’s ill fated Dancing On Ice — it hired Shine Australia to produce the show.
After a “long and incredibly involved” coaches casting process, it wasn’t until the first meeting with The Voice Australia coaches in Los Angeles in January when executive producer Julie Ward thought that they were on to a good thing.
Ward was keen for Urban, Madden, Goodrem and Seal to do Seal’s 1990 hit “Crazy” as the show’s opening number, even though the U.S. coaches performed Gnarls Barkly’s song of the same name for season one.
Ward asked the group what song they’d like to do when, unprompted, Urban said “Why don’t we do Seal’s ‘Crazy’?” While Seal was initially surprised at the idea, Madden and Goodrem, who are longtime friends, loved it .
“It was then that we all knew we were starting on the right track,” Ward said. “We’ve been blessed that the chemistry is there – they’re playful, genuine and heartfelt.”
For the Australian version of the show the producers wanted a crosssection of different musical styles.
“It was imperative that there were Australians but the international focus of the program, and the global nature of the music industry, meant that one coach each from the U.K. and the U.S. was important for us as well,” explains Ward.
Urban told The Hollywood Reporter he decided to join the show after his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, got him into watching the U.S. version at home in Nashville.
”I got to know who Adam Levine is,” Urban said. “It made me hear his music differently. As an artist, I wanted the opportunity to have people see that side to me.”
Seal added the show is part of a shift overall to a more positive outlook about people’s talents, with the coaches in an A&R role.
”I absolutely believe there is a shift, not just in music but socially, for people who are sick and tired of taking pleasure at other people sensationalizing flaws in people,” he said. ”What this is actually doing is celebrating talent — it’s bringing us back to the golden age of the music industry.”
Nine’s director of development, Adrian Swift, said that launching a new format like The Voice in the midst of a raft of other talent, cooking and home renovation shows is risky.
”We’ve asked ourselves if the market will endure another one of these shows,” Swift said. ”So there’s a lot of pressure. It needs to perform.”
But Swift is encouraged by the success of the U.K. version, which last week overtook Britain’s Got Talent as that territory’s number one show.
With an audience of nearly 3 million viewers for its premiere, the pressure for The Voice to perform Down Under has eased a bit.
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