ABC’s ‘Rising Star’: Network TV’s Next Big Thing?

In terms of hot formats, arguably no unscripted show is having a bigger moment than “Rising Star.”

After a major launch in Israel last year, “Rising Star” was acquired by several foreign territories before ABC got in on the action, landing the format in November with a 10-episode order. From Keshet DCP, “Rising Star” offers a new twist on singing competition shows, allowing viewers to vote in real-time through an app to keep a contestant on the live program.

According to Keshet International’s managing director, Alon Shtruzman, the format “manifests the opposite of everything in the market,” despite the market’s saturation when it comes to talent competitions.

“Talent shows are no longer a place for judges,” Shtruzman said Tuesday during the “Format Focus” panel at the RealScreen Summit. “It’s now the audience. In a way, the assumption is that it’s hard to stand out [in this genre] because there are so many shows, and because ‘Rising Star’ came after over a decade of talent shows.”

The integration of real-time app voting and audience empowerment has many “Rising Star” broadcasters intrigued. During each episode, a contestant performs and must reach a 70% live-voting threshold from viewers at home in order for a giant screen to be lifted, revealing a live studio audience. What spinning chairs did for “The Voice,” ABC hopes the rising screen will do for “Rising Star.”

“Everyone knows talent shows from ‘Idol’ and ‘X Factor,’ and the importance of judges,” said Shtruzman. “‘Rising Star’ brought the same story, but the opposite.”

The format, however, faces its challenges as it docks Stateside this summer. ABC topper Paul Lee touted the show during his TCA exec session, but admitted that challenges over real-time voting with time zone differences have yet to be sorted out.

Some producers at RealScreen have pointed to more subtle difficulties that the show may face: should a West Coast contestant perform only during a live East Coast broadcast, a significant portion of that contestant’s fan base may not be able to tune in and vote due to delayed broadcasts of “Rising Star.” While it seems like a small issue, the network’s standards and practices department could view this as an unfair advantage for East Coast contestants, and call for new voting measures.

“Rising Star’s” success in Israel certainly boosted its rep in the eyes of buyers (its December finale in Israel drew a 58% household share), but Shrtuzman reminded panel attendees that “Rising Star” was sold to its first country — France — after only two weeks on the air in Israel. The success of this format, he said, is due to its tech-savvy twist — it looks as good on paper as it does in ratings returns. Core Media Group’s Marc Graboff recalled the inception of NBC’s “The Voice,” and had similar words.

“During the time that ‘The Voice’ was being shopped, NBC had in development a mentor-based music-singing competition with Mark Burnett, through an in-house studio,” recalled Graboff. “It was meandering around in development, and it was Mark Burnett! High profile, but it still never got the order. When ‘The Voice’ came along [from Holland] came along, the folks in charge of programming at NBC immediately ordered it not because it was a great success in Holland — though it was — but because of that twist with the chairs. I think the same with a show like ‘Rising Star,’ it does have the benefit of having done well in Israel, but it has that element. It’s not just another successful, run-of-the-mill, vanilla music-competition show. It has an up-to-date, contemporary element.”

Fox’s “American Idol” inevitably came up as discussion transitioned away from ABC’s “Rising Star.” Graboff said his company “spent awhile refreshing the format” with “bit-by-bit” analysis.

“We realized at the end of the day, it’s like a house with really good bones,” Graboff stated. “It just needs new paint. It needs to be updated. We didn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. We fixed, hopefully, what we thought was wrong…the judging panel in particular. But the essence of the show that Simon Fuller created is still there. We’re not going to mess with that, because that’s the gold standard of formats.”

Shtruzman is confident about the broader effects of “Rising Star” in the unscripted format landscape, with the show’s emphasis on social networking sites, app integration and viewer engagement.

“‘Rising Star’ will give more confidence to creatives and broadcasters to break boundaries and integrate technology,” he said. “It was the most unpredicted success in the last few years. If we sit and analyze what we should do next, most likely it would be ‘Don’t do anymore talent shows.’ But with ‘Rising Star,’ you can change the paradigm.”

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