NBC got itself a smash hit when The Voice premiered last April. That’s why it’s a lot easier for the man who was instrumental in bringing the show to the network to smile when he recalls the uncertainty that first surrounded it. There was plenty of skepticism during the build-up to the premiere, remembers Paul Telegdy, NBC's head of alternative and latenight programming. Colleagues told him The Voice had “expensive flop” written all over it. In one conversation with a close friend, he was told: "Seriously, a singing show…you better be sure about this."
It was, therefore, good for Telegdy (and the rest of NBC) that the network’s singing-competition series The Voice debuted to a 5.1 rating in the adults 18- 49 demo last April. “It was one of those things that turned around and whacked the industry on the head,” says Telegdy, who recalls that during the build-up to the premiere, industry friends told him The Voice had “expensive flop” written all over it. “It was a very good day at NBC.”
Telegdy got his start in the television industry working for international distribution companies, after first studying Japanese and Korean languages at the University of London. Once he realized the TV business was for him, there was only one place he wanted to go: the BBC. “You can’t work in Britain and not be impacted by the BBC,” he says.
He made it there in 1999, and during his tenure, the network was cultivating relationships with American production companies. Telegdy convinced the higherups that he could do his job better if he relocated to the U.S. During that time, he developed the megahit Dancing With the Stars, and after working with NBC on Grease: You’re the One That I Want, the network hired him to run its flailing reality division.
It was a good move: Without Telegdy, that “good day” The Voice created may never have come. When John De Mol was interested in bringing The Voice of Holland to the States, he initially was wary of working with network executives, because of issues he had earlier with Deal or No Deal (frequency of broadcast) and Big Brother (CBS wanted to change the format). “John was extremely protective,” recalls Telegdy, “and has been, more than once, maybe twice, shy about being in business with U.S. networks.”
Hearing that De Mol believed in the personal relationship side of TV, Telegdy hopped a plane to Holland to try and convince him he would do The Voice right. He met with De Mol as he was working on one of The Voice of Holland’s shows. After seeing the series in person, Telegdy knew he could make it work, and told De Mol that he would do everything in his power to not only make it successful but keep it something De Mol would be proud of. “I said, ‘The only guarantee I can give you is that I will dedicate every waking hour to its success,'" Teledgy recalls.
After that pitch, De Mol told Telegdy that if he could deliver on 10% of what he’d promised, the U.S. version would be in good shape—and in good hands. The morning after the series premiered in America, Telegdy called an emotional De Mol to give him the news. “I couldn’t see whether there were tears in his eyes, but it sounded like there were,” says Telegdy. “I was incredibly proud of that moment.”
The singing-competition genre was something Telegdy had long been trying to nail down. He and Mark Burnett—an executive producer of The Voice—had already been brainstorming ideas. “Mark and I had unfinished business,” Telegdy says.
Telegdy’s success in the unscripted department eventually also landed him additional oversight of NBC’s late-night programming this past September, replacing veteran Rick Ludwin, who stepped down.
“Paul is an exemplary executive who has tremendous creative vision in the area of unscripted programming, which makes him perfect for this expanded role,” NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said at the time.
Telegdy’s creative vision, passion and personal touch have brought him where he is now. “I have the constitution of an ox—literally,” he says. “I’ve very rarely met anybody who can meet my sheer energy and enthusiasm.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays
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