NBC's decision to turn singing competition The Sing-Off into a weekly series might be the biggest surprise of the new fall season. But it was a move that came only after intense debate inside the Peacock network over how and when to air a second season of new hit The Voice.
According to insiders, a faction inside NBC was extremely keen to find a way to keep The Voice on the fall schedule, and the choice was heavily examined.
"It was obviously much debated," confirms NBC Entertainment alternative programming executive vice president Paul Telegdy.
Such a move would make sense: The Voice talent competition has given NBC some of its best ratings in years, and has quickly turned into a critical building block for NBC's primetime recovery. That's why many rivals and TV analysts expected NBC to rush the talent competition back on the fall schedule. "Getting The Voice on there is important," one exec said prior to NBC's announcement. "People are responding to it."
And it could conceivably be done: "If they tell me, within reason, that they need The Voice, I'll deliver it," executive producer Mark Burnett told TV Guide Magazine earlier this month. The back-and-forth over The Voice raged on until last Thursday, when the network decided that it just couldn't do a credible job in bringing back The Voice too soon. (The show will instead launch in January, supported by a heavy marketing push during the Super Bowl.)
NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt told reporters Sunday that one of his key goals "is making sure The Voice is back in as strong a format as possible. [We want to] turn it into a multi-year juggernaut for us."
NBC execs knew that they wanted to use The Voice to launch their most high-profile new drama, the Steven Spielberg musical Smash. In holding The Voice to midseason, that also meant keeping Smash off the fall schedule. And with both of those shows on the bench until midseason, the network knew it had to showcase something else this fall. That's where The Sing-Off came in.
The Sing-Off, which saw big growth in its second season last December, was originally scheduled as a seasonal event during the holidays. But the show has been poised for bigger things at NBC. Telegdy said The Sing-Off was among the first shows referenced by Greenblatt when the exec arrived at NBC.
"Bob made a case that the show was robust and showing strength," Teledgy says. "He thought we should consider an elongated series, and make it more of a competition with stakes. The quality of talent and musical performances is so good. He was confident in its potential."
It quickly dawned on NBC that The Sing-Off could give NBC some schedule symmetry: Moving from The Voice in spring, then America's Got Talent in summer and The Sing-Off in fall. "That may not be the dumbest thing on the planet," Telegdy dryly remarks.
Telegdy was also bullish on the fact that The Sing-Off hosts a vibrant social media community. "As a key indicator for people's passion for the show, the social media lived on for months after the show ended," Telegdy notes.
The Sing-Off pits teams of acapella singers opposite each other. Telegdy says there will be a few tweaks to The Sing-Off — most notably, judge Nicole Scherzinger will no longer be involved. That's because she's the new host of Fox's The X Factor. "Obviously the departure of one of our judges leaves a vacancy for great piece of talent," Telegdy says. "Every since Nicole's intentions were clarified, we've been casting that role."
The Sing-Off will also increase the number of competitors on the show and spend more time focusing on the elimination of candidates. "We haven't locked up the final format of the show," Telegdy says. That includes how many episodes the show will run.
Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men) is back, as is Ben Folds Five frontman Ben Folds, as judges. Also back is executive producer Joel Gallen, who signed off on the move to fall as well. ("He's a perfectionist and a music lover," Telegdy says). Nick Lachey is the host.
Now, with The Sing-Off moving to fall, Telegdy is looking to find a new small TV franchise to air during December holidays. But Telegdy says he's not interested in launching yet another talent or singing competition.
Instead, options among the low-budget shows available to fill that holiday slot: Betty White's Off Their Walkers hidden camera show, which already received an order from NBC. "NBC has had some success going into that part of the year, so [it might be worth] continuing experiments that could catch fire like The Sing-Off," he says.
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