How NBC Found Its ‘Voice’; Can It Lead the Network Out of Fourth Place?

NBC finally finds itself a hit, but can its top-rated new singing show help the rest of its primetime lineup?

NBC's "The Voice" scored the biggest debut of any show this season, beat "Dancing With the Stars" and "Glee" to win two Tuesday nights in a row, and leapfrogged Fox's long-anticipated "The X Factor" to become TV's latest breakout singing show.

Now, all it has to do is help revive the rest of NBC's schedule.

NBC hopes to use the show — which it rushed to air in just five months — to break more primetime hits, just as Fox used "American Idol" to help launch "House" and "Glee."

The lessons NBC learned from the warp-speed creation of "The Voice" may help develop its next breakthroughs. And it needs them soon, because "The Voice" isn't expected back until later in the season.

Also read: NBC's Fall Pilots

The network's challenge comes as it prepares to unveil its new slate of shows — from among more than 20 pilots — at its upfront presentation to advertisers next Monday.

The slate will be the first for new NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, whose success at Showtime made many hope he could finally help NBC escape its years in fourth place.

But Comcast, NBC's new owner, takes the possibility of a revival seriously enough that it announced last week plans to invest an extra $200 million this year to rebuild the network's primetime lineup.

"The real key is making better shows," NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke recently told investors.

That's exactly what it did with "The Voice" — while very much under the gun.

"It felt almost impossible to deliver by April, but they pulled together and did it," NBC executive vice president of alternative programming Paul Telegdy told TheWrap. "I think for something of this scale, this is probably as fast as you can turn around a quality product."

It was only in November that Telegdy began talking in earnest with John de Mol, who created the format and executive produces the Dutch show "The Voice of Holland," to see if the format might translate to the U.S.

NBC, like all the networks, had failed to find a breakout fall hit. One highly-touted prospect, sci-fi series "The Event," quickly shed half of its solid 3.6 debut adult-demo rating.

Adding to the anxiety was the wait to see whether Comcast's acquisition of NBCU would be approved, and who might lose their jobs in the process. (It finally went through in January.)

Amid that backdrop, Telegdy and de Mol struck a deal — and NBC brought in gold-standard reality producer Mark Burnett to oversee the project alongside de Mol. In December, the network ambitiously announced the show would air in the spring, though it had no host or judges.

Within months, it had named Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine. It secured its A-list panel well ahead of "The X Factor," Simon Cowell's Americanized version of his U.K. hit, which is due in the fall and has been anticipated since before Cowell left "American Idol" last season.

NBC representatives have made a point not to talk about "X Factor," or "Idol," which remains the most popular show on television.

As the premiere of "The Voice" approached, NBC saved time and money by skipping weeks of traveling auditions, an "Idol" hallmark.

It also saved marketing money with a calculated strategy that focused on outdoor ads in New York and Los Angeles, in part because both are packed with reporters and advertisers. In the rest of the country, meanwhile, it relied heavily on radio, online and digital buys.

The show's debut date on April 26 meant it had to compete with a few cable series — AMC's "The Killing," Showtime's "The Borgias" and HBO's "Game of Thrones" — to be the month's most anticipated show.

But it faced an otherwise uncluttered landscape, unlike fall shows that have to fight fiercely for attention. 

Not that NBC was afraid of competition. The network scheduled it on Tuesdays against ABC's "Dancing" and Fox's "Glee," two of TV's heaviest hitters, in a move that could have been suicidal.

The gambit paid off: "The Voice" scored a 5.1 debut rating in the crucial 18-49 demo and a 10 percent improvement the next week. The debut was the season's highest for a series premiere.

The morning after the second episode of "The Voice" aired last week, Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts said the show's success was "maybe the most exciting event for NBC Universal this year."

Now, all NBC has to do is do it all over again.