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The Morning After: NBC, Finally Something to Sing About?

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Lewis Jacobs/NBC

The preliminary ratings are in, and it looks like NBC’s Smash, whose ads have been tattooed on the insides of your eyelids for three months, had a strong first airing at 10 p.m. We’ll have to see how well the numbers hold up beyond the pilot (and how well they break down in advertising demos), but considering the bar for ratings at NBC right now, I don’t see how it doesn’t get a second season short of a Spider-Man style collapse.*

Maybe more important for NBC is that, after a post-Super Bowl promo, it got a huge number of people to tune in for the second season of The Voice, setting the network up for a strong season of Music Mondays even as American Idol’s ratings decline. You’re welcome to tell us what you thought of Smash in the comments. But right now I want to talk about The Voice because, to my surprise, I have become one of the people who watches it.

I resisted The Voice its first season, not because I had anything against it, but because I already had an Idol reviewing commitment and only so many hours in my life. But I’ve sworn off Idol auditions this season, and, well, Super Bowl promos even work on TV critics. And I have to say: gimmicky as the device is, there is something about those swiveling chairs.

The original hook behind the show, and thus the chairs, is of course that the judges commit to singers sight unseen: i.e., The Voice is only about The Voice. That aspect is, I think, a little oversold; once the competition moves along it becomes as much about molding a pop star as any other competition show.

But the device turns out to be a great way to inject liveliness, suspense and humor into the audition process without Idol’s ceaseless parade of bad singers. With the early episodes turning on the mentors picking singers (and vice versa), the selection process brings out the personality differences among the panel—sly Cee-Lo, picky Adam, and so on—and allows the auditioners to show personality in a pressure situation. Yeah, it follows a formula like any reality show (how many times do we see that trademark shot where the camera dissolves focus from the singer to Xtina listening raptuously in her chair?). But the formula works.

I don’t plan on blogging the show here every week, and I’m not sure I’ll become a weekly viewer—it may be too much time commitment with the other shows I need to follow. But ironically, I could see myself having the opposite relationship with The Voice that I do with Idol: I may end up being more interested in the auditions than the regular competition.

Which of the two I end up watching (if either) in the home stretch will probably depend on the talent pool, and from its first two nights’, The Voice’s looks good. But for now, whose team are you on? And if you’re one of the three people in America who has not expressed an opinion of Smash, give us your opening night review.

*[Update: We have the detailed ratings for Smash's debut, and while they're certainly not bad, they didn't blow the doors off either. On the one hand, it was one of the highest-rated series debuts of the season, and it won its hour in 18-49 demo and overall viewers. On the other hand, it lost a lot of viewers from The Voice; its audience seems to skew older, which matters for advertising; and in maybe the most troubling sign, its demo audience fell off almost 20% in the second half hour. Now, considering where NBC is right now, Smash definitely looks good by its standards, and we don't know whether the extensive previews of the show built or depressed its debut airing. A lot will depend on the next few weeks, and I suspect Smash will get a second season on NBC with sizably lower ratings. Nonetheless, it's hard to imagine a debut getting a bigger tailwind than Smash had—a compatible lead-in from one of the biggest shows on TV, lots of advance buzz and months of promotion. It's reasonable to think that NBC was hoping for more than "pretty decent"—though I'm sure it will gladly settle for that.]

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