Kindness is in vogue,” Mark Burnett said during a cocktail party and dinner to celebrate the start of the fifth season of “The Voice” on NBC. To a certain extent, a gentle but firm hand — guidance over criticism — has been the mantra for the “Voice” leadership and on-air talent. With the return of Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green to the coaches’ seats this season, “kindness” may play an even larger role.
During the opening of the Sept. 23 premiere, Burnett and his team encapsulated that spirit with the original four coaches — Blake Shelton and Adam Levine have sat in the oversized red chairs every season — reuniting on the set and a string of strong performers. One singer got three coaches to quickly spin their chairs around and then launch sales pitches to attract the performers to their teams. In a few short minutes, “The Voice” demonstrated its intention to be a nurturing and fun show, perhaps more so this year than in previous editions.
“Right now I’m in an interesting place — learning how to better care and protect and nurture yourself,” Aguilera said at the dinner party, held an hour after her appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” “I’m giving these kids that coaching advice on my team this year, and I’m trying to get them to step, sometimes, away from the competition of it.”
Aguilera’s point, from the days before “The Voice” even started airing, was about how the show was different from others in that it didn’t denigrate performers, mock singers or concentrate on the bickering of the coaches. She continues to emphasize that element — Burnett “inspired me to inspire others,” she said in staying on message — and it’s not unreasonable to suggest that concept will permeate the show this year.
Burnett says it goes beyond “The Voice,” that this kindness factor is even affecting the presentation of “Survivor” this year. And who’s to say what the Burnett effect will be on the a cappella competition “The Sing-Off,” which recently wrapped and will air after Thanksgiving? It was already the ultimate feel-good singing show when Joel Gallen was running it in its first three incarnations.
“There’s a trickle-down effect,” Aguilera said of Burnett’s influence. “It has to start with a great leader. His intention has been nothing but supportive, giving, kind and nurturing. He allows the breathing room to creative ourselves. [Shelton and Levine] exhaust themselves with flying out on tour and then coming back for the show. But what’s great is we can all take a break.”
The reunion of the original four coaches paid off for NBC. It was the second-most-watched premiere of the show with nearly 15 million viewers, according to Nielsen, and won every time period of the night in every demographic category. “The Voice” also received the Emmy Award for reality competition series, the first time a music competition show has won the honor.
As is to be expected, the ratings will be compared to those of Fox’s “The X Factor,” which are strong enough to push Fox to victory on Wednesday and Thursday nights despite reduced viewership from last season.
The 18-49 audience, when live viewing plus three days is counted, was 3.5 million for the Sept. 11 premiere, according to Nielsen. The Sept. 12 edition was watched live by 6.9 million total viewers, of which 2.4 million were in the target demographic. The show’s second Thursday (Sept. 19) had 6 million total viewers and a repeat of 2.4 million in the target demo.
“The X Factor” is marketed far differently from “The Voice.” It aims to demonstrate the wide chasm between the unacceptable and the startling, highlighting Simon Cowell’s responses and hinting at the possibility of a startling performance.
Burnett, an hour after he made the remark about kindness, returned to the theme. “This show has changed the dramatic hook from humiliating a singer,” he said. “You have to make joy on TV. It’s just delicious.”