'America's Got Talent': Why is it a ratings winner?
Monday - 28/08/2017 23:55
America’s Got Talent is capitalizing on joy. And the plan is paying off in record numbers.
HOLLYWOOD — America’s Got Talent is capitalizing on joy. And the plan is paying off in record numbers.
The show (NBC; Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 ET/PT), which features returning judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Mel B, is the No. 1 summer broadcast series delivering its most-watched season ever: 16.2 million viewers, up 15% from last year.
Inside of the Dolby Theatre, where AGT is shooting the first of its live episodes (which wound up being its most popular telecast in six years with 16.8 million viewers), the audience is clapping to the tune of Pharrell's Happy before the show begins. You'd have no idea that just a few days earlier, violence erupted in Charlottesville, Va.
A warm-up guy tells the thousands in the stands: “Don’t watch the show; be part of it.” He also encourages people to laugh at what’s funny, cheer at what’s exciting and stand up when they feel so compelled. (They feel compelled often — like after every performance.)
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“I do believe part of our success is a little bit of an escape and a little bit of a safe zone,” executive producer Jason Raff says about AGT. “It’s a fun, entertaining show that takes you away from the headlines of the day.”
To help create that action-packed la la land, NBC has enlisted the help of new host Tyra Banks, who replaces goofy series regular Nick Cannon after he left the show in February because of a dispute with the network over a racial joke. But there's no hard feelings there. He tweeted to Banks, "I know you'll be amazing!" after learning she took the position. Banks has since embodied a different kind of MC than Cannon: more warmth; less weird.
Salute Queen! Congrats, I know you will be amazing! Wonderful Choice??
On AGT, “I’m a little bit more cheerleader and Mama,” says Banks, comparing her new role to the one she had on America's NextTop Model, where “I (was) tough love-slash-comedian-slash-coach. It is different.”
Instead of advising contestants to “smize” (smile with their eyes), she’s helping nervous young acts like 9-year-old singer Celine Tam and 12-year-old ventriloquist Darci Lynne turn their nerves into excitement, encouraging them to “use that scared energy for positivity,” as she says. She also fields many hugs.
“I always have to go down on my knees (to embrace the youngsters). But I have so much body makeup, that I tell all of the guys that work on the stage, I’m like ‘Every time there’s a kid, you’re going to have to wipe that beautiful black, shiny floor, because you’re gonna to have golden dust left behind.”
Banks isn’t the only one who’s shedding her edge for the feel-good show. Cowell, too, is gentler this season, at least compared to the American Idol years when “there was a perceived meanness to (his persona) that was attractive to the viewers,” says Raff. “He’s not quite the mean judge that he might have been in the past.”
And how could he be, when he’s on a show that not only guarantees happy tears with the touch of a button (It’s called the Golden Buzzer, and it sent eight acts straight to the live shows), and has been upping the ante in terms of live-show spectacle?
Recent, awards-show-caliber AGT performances have featured ascending platforms and fire (stunt skaters Billy and Emily England), more than a thousand LED candles onstage (13-year-old musician Evie Clair) and a forest scene with real plants (returning champ Grace VanderWaal). The highly-produced stage show feels “on the edge of things going horribly wrong,” says Raff.
And sometimes, things do go wrong.
Last week, neon-lit dance crew Light Balance couldn’t perform because of technical difficulties (NBC aired a pretaped rehearsal) and illusionist Demian Aditya’s so-called death-defying escape “didn’t work as he hoped it would work, (despite) working in rehearsal,” Raff says.
But, if anything, the mistakes create another talking point for families that watch together.
“Anecdotally, so many people come to me and say, ‘I love watching that show with my family,' ” says Raff. “Knowing how life is, a show that can get a teenager to watch TV at the same time as a parent, that is a very special thing to me.”