NBC's The Voice is probably best known for its blind auditions — and, of course, its big, red spinning chairs, which helped turn the singing competition into a ratings phenomenon. But NBC also realized last year that once the chairs stop spinning, viewer interest in The Voice starts to dip.
Meeting with reporters Sunday evening at his lavish beachside home, executive producer Mark Burnett (sitting next to coaches Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Cee-Lo Green) revealed a new twist that he believes will carry the drama of The Voice's blind auditions into its battle rounds.
During the first two seasons' battle episodes, in which two contestants face off in front of their coach, the losing singer had to exit the show, no matter how good they were. But this season (premiering Monday, Sept. 10), coaches will be able to steal contestants that a rival judge has sent home. And just like in the blind auditions, if more than one coach hits their buzzer to recruit the singer in question, it's up to the contestant to decide which superstar he or she wants to work with.
Each coach can save two contestants, which means Aguilera, Levine, Shelton and Green will conclude the battle rounds with 10 singers each, rather than eight. But that won't last for long. During a new two-week "knockout round," the coaches will whittle their teams down to five. It's those 20 singers who will make it to The Voice's live shows, which are set to begin in October.
"We all just wondered, what is it that we can do during the battles to keep the competitive element going," Burnett says. "And this came out of a collective talking. Last weekend we taped it, and it was very exciting."
Besides extending the competitive interplay among the show's coaches, Burnett and host Carson Daly say the saves might solve another problem brought on by pitting singers against each other in the battle rounds: Sometimes two great singers go up against each other, and according to the old rules, one of them must go home. "We were losing talent that's so hard to get on these shows," Daly says.
Adds Burnett: "It worked better than we hoped. It's been a kind experience. People who deserve to stay will stay." Burnett says he opted against trying to find a way to incorporate more chair spinning into the season. "I think the audience would reject it," he says. "It's not real. [They would say] that we're trying too hard." But even with the changes, Daly promises that "we don't want to mess with the DNA" of the show.
Burnett says the decision to add a "steal" and a "knockout round" was a joint one between himself, NBC, Warner Horizon and Talpa Media (which created the show in Holland). "We found exciting ways to keep the competition between the coaches going," NBC alternative president Paul Telegdy told reporters at the recent TV Critics Association press tour.
Meanwhile, asked about Britney Spears' gig on rival Fox singing show The X Factor this fall, Aguilera was diplomatic: "I came up with Britney, our paths have always crossed," she says. "I welcome her to this family of fun. Britney's a pro."
Burnett and the coaches also tiptoed around the question of which superstars might be back in the spring for the fourth edition of The Voice. The coaches all have busy recording and touring commitments, and Burnett says he's realistic that they can't all continue appearing in consecutive editions of the show. "This is not our day job," Shelton adds.
But Burnett says he would like to keep Aguilera, Levine, Shelton and Green on board as the show's core coaches, with the idea that they'll all have to miss some seasons and be replaced with temp stars. None of the current coaches are on board yet for spring, although Green told reporters he'd like to do it.
"It won't be if, it's when. They're all going to tour. We're talking about it all the time," Burnett says. For their part, the quartet appears to be having the time of their lives. Adam Levine says he's proud of the fact that other superstars are now doing rival music shows. "We made this cool."