Blake Shelton, left, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine judging a contestant on “The Voice.”
Could it still be true that even the worst performing television network is only one hit away from a turnaround?
Apparently so, as long as the hit is on for more than 40 hours in four months.
NBC has managed that unexpected turnaround from worst to first this fall, largely — competitors suggest almost exclusively — on the strength of the addition of a single show: “The Voice,” the singing competition that features swinging chairs and big-name musical artists as coaches.
Yes, NBC also has “Sunday Night Football,” but that powerhouse was on the schedule last fall, when NBC had a 2.6 rating among the viewers preferred by many advertisers, ages 18 through 49. Each rating point in that age category equals 1.26 million people. With those 40-plus hours of “The Voice” added (as well as vastly improved ratings for adjacent shows), NBC is up 23 percent to a 3.2 rating.
On Mondays, when the first of two weekly editions of the show plays, NBC is up a staggering 206 percent.
“We built our strategy around ‘The Voice,’ ” said Paul Telegdy, the president of reality and late-night programming for NBC. “We wanted to use Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to build momentum, and we’ve successfully done it.”
The show’s most recent edition started in February, coming out of a big introduction on the night of the Super Bowl. With its prime-time in tatters, NBC decided to insert the series twice this season, something its most similar antecedent, “American Idol,” has never done.
But the show’s executive producer, Mark Burnett, has done it before with shows he produced. “I knew it would be a challenge, but it was a challenge to take ‘Survivor’ to twice a season and ‘The Apprentice’ to twice a season, and that all worked out,” he said. The pressing question for NBC is what happens after Dec. 18, when this edition of “The Voice” has its finale. (Or, for that matter, when the N.F.L. season ends.)
Senior executives at two competing networks said NBC was taking a risk by being carried by one show. That immediately conjured comparisons to “Idol,” which for years lifted the Fox network almost single-handedly to first place, and — more ominously — to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the game show phenomenon that blazed at ABC and then flamed out from overuse.
“You do wonder if this is the NBC version of ‘Millionaire,’ ” said Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media.
Mr. Burnett questioned that premise, noting that his “Survivor” has been on twice a season and is now in its 25th edition.
Still, “The Voice” does occupy a singing genre crowded with Fox’s two entries, “The X Factor” and “Idol.” Both have had recent ratings declines for their latest editions.
“The Voice” will also go through a test when it returns in March with two new coaches, the singers Shakira and Usher, replacing Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green, who are taking off that cycle. Blake Shelton and Adam Levine will remain in the four-coach mix.
Preston Beckman, the longtime senior program executive at Fox, said, “I do think they will feel the loss in January and February, and it gives ‘Idol’ the sole ownership of the genre for a few months. The real test will be what it does when it returns, especially with the two new judges. That will determine what happens to the network next year.”
Mr. Telegdy credited the success of “The Voice” to the power of the format, which was created by the Dutch producer John DeMol. It is now produced in more than 50 countries, and has been an explosive hit in many of them. “The finale of the Chinese version attracted 300 million viewers,” Mr. Telegdy said.
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