4 Ways To Make ‘Smash’ Smashier.

A little over a year ago, I blogged about the then upcoming prime time series about Broadway called Smash, and what it could mean for Broadway.  I could just imagine those millions of people hearing the words, “Broadway” over and over every week.  I’ll go back on the record and say that this show could have the biggest marketing impact on the future of our industry.  It’s international.  It’s weekly.

And it got renewed for a second season.

Let’s be honest.  I know quite a few folks out there that were nervous Smash wasn’t going to get a 2nd green light, but thankfully, for all of us, it did.  For those out there who have been critical of some of the season, I’ve always responded with a, “Hey – go watch the first season of Seinfeld.”  It wasn’t that good.  And you could feel the writers/actors and everyone involved finding their way through what was then a new form of the form.

But they figured it out.

And my money is on Smash . . . and that they will figure it out too.

And let’s face it . . . a singing dancing series ain’t easy.  Hasn’t been done that often, never mind to critical and commercial success.  And Smash’s ratings are très respectable.  And they’ve got a great shot at season #3 and beyond, as well as giving our box office a shot in the arm.

All that said, I’ve got a few ideas (surprise, surprise) on how the Producers of Smash can make the show even smashier, so I thought I’d share some of them with you:

1.  You Do TV Better Than We do

A great deal of respect was shown to our community by hiring some of the best to run the show.  But TV ain’t theater.  And what works on those 2 dimensional flat screens is a lot different than what works on a stage.  The best people for a TV show may very well be TV people.  And I’m thrilled that the smarties that call the shots have hired Gossip Girl show runner and veteran Josh Safran to lead the second season.

2.  When Was the Last Time You Watched a Mini-Series?

Watching a musical come together from inception to production is fascinating, but it also makes every episode so dependent on the prior . . . which means that if a viewer misses an episode, they might feel like they can’t catch up and then tune out (I call this the “Studio 60” syndrome – God that was a great show, that only lasted two seasons because it felt like one giant movie that you couldn’t afford to miss five minutes of).  It starts to feel like a mini-series, and we know those aren’t made anymore for a reason.  I’d like to see Smash go a little more procedural, a little more LA Law, to go ol’ school, where each episode’s drama is a little more self-contained.  And showing the Producers and Actors and Staffers working on several different types of shows might  draw in people who aren’t drawn in by Marilyn.

3.  To Glee or Not to Glee.

Do you only have the songs in performance situations, like rehearsals, or tech, or previews?  Do you have the characters sing about how they’re feeling?  Or try to work in more “real” singing situations, like karaoke?  This has got to be one of the hardest decisions facing the writers of Smash.  My opinion?  Just keep it to where and when it’s real.  And part of the plot.  Keep it to the auditions and the rehearsals and the performances.  Finding another place to get the characters to sing an unoriginal tune, just because there hasn’t been a musical number for awhile doesn’t work when writing musicals, and I don’t think it’ll work for TV either.

4.  Atkins was right:  More stake is good for you.

Want to know the reason why there are so many Legal Dramas and Medical Dramas and Cop Dramas on television?  Life or Death is a part of every episode – which means high stakes are built into the plot.  It just comes with the genre.  We’d like to think putting on a Broadway musical is life or death, but let’s face it, it ain’t.  Smash has the challenge of trying to find these same kind of stakes within what it brings to the table.  And that’s gonna be tough.  But I think that’s what it should focus on, because that’s what will lead to more viewers.  Everyone has love/life/death in common. Where/when it’s set doesn’t even have to matter.  Raise up those stakes and ratings will follow.


I’m a big fan of Smash.  And I’m rooting for it’s continued success.  There have been lots of shake ups already with cast members going and cast members coming (Jennifer Hudson anyone?).  And I’ll be watching every episode of Season 2, hoping that it’s has that same path as Seinfeld.

Because Season 2 is where it really got good.

I know you’ve got thoughts on this subject.  So tell me, and the world wide webbers everywhere:  what ideas do you have to make Smash smashier?


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)


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  • Kevin Lambert says:

    SMASH was completely overhyped by the network and could not live up to that hype. I left it after three episodes because I just don’t have time to wait for a tv show to become good. I agree that works on stage doesn’t translate to tv which is the major and perhaps insurmountable problem of this show. It claimed to be so REAL and it was so FAR from real. And also actors who look great on stage do not necessarily look great on camera. And if the Katherine McPhee character did NOT sleep with that director in episode 2 was it? then she would no longer be in the running for the job. Hello, it’s the show business and it’s dirty. I’ll just re-watch the original 42nd STREET on TCM.

  • I absolutely LOVED Smash!!! And can’t wait until the second season. Although you have to watch one episode to understand the next, it worked for 8 Seasons of Desperate Housewives, and it’s working well for Dexter. You just gotta go online to NBC or Hulu and play catch up like I did if you caught on late. I definitely agree with your third point because I specifically remember the karaoke scene (yawn). But one thing that I think would be really cool would be to show the making of a musical that will indeed be on Broadway!!! Although I’m not a Marilyn fan, I might’ve watched the actual Broadway Musical of it on the strength of the show.

  • Matt says:

    Studio 60, sadly, only lasted one season.

    • Angela says:

      I was going to say the same thing. And they didn’t air the final three episodes until the summer months, because they decided to give The Black Donnellys the time slot for a bit.

      Oh, how I love Studio 60.

  • Cara says:

    People who are expecting reality are looking in the wrong place. It’s television. I enjoy the show, but I also realize it’s about as real as any episode of CSI or Law & Order, which is not much.
    I think it is a great way to get people who aren’t “normal” theatre types interested in the world.

  • Andrew says:

    Great column, Ken. I am looking forward to find out in what direction the new show runners decide to take the show. Will they opt for more urgent plot lines? How will they involve the existing ensemble if they are going to introduce other shows? I think part of the problem was that some people were expecting a Glee-paced show, with musical numbers interspersed with the soap opera developments, and that was not what Smash was trying to do (though I did enjoy the audacity of the Bollywood number which really had nothing to do with anything ultimately, just fun for a choreographer and a film editor and perhaps the cast). I didn’t realize until it was off the air how much I missed Megan Hilty.

  • Raymond Cothern says:

    I agree with Cara. It’s television for Chrissake. You suspend some belief with all scripted shows. And Kevin thinks 42ND STREET is real? Hardly. For what it is trying to accomplish, SMASH did just fine and hopefully will build on the first season. As all of us know who work in or with or flirt with imagined stories, middle American could care less about song and dance. STUDIO 60, yes, excellent, but a case in point. I am pulling for SMASH and even GLEE. Where else (besides in the theatre) can you get a taste of show biz?

  • I am hoping the second season will bring an expansion of Wesley Taylor’s character. He absolutely stole the show in Rock of Ages and I have been dying for them to turn him loose a bit more in this series. If anyone can make Smash smashier it’s Wesley.

  • Alexandra C. says:

    Thanks for the article Ken! I’ve always been a huge fan of theatre and have dabbled in playwriting, but my current home is writing for television (on a half-hour sitcom, so a bit different stylistically from SMASH), and I couldn’t agree with you more! SMASH could definitely be improved by more immediate plot lines and challenges that exist within each episode, instead of stretching out over multiple eps. It would also be amazing if we could see multiple projects in production or at least if the focus was less on the Marilyn piece, which frankly wasn’t interesting to me — I mean, it just seemed like tired a musical with 90% ballad numbers and no remarkable plot… I think it’s great that SMASH is trying to bring Broadway to primetime (hopefully this show will inspire more people to enjoy theatre and maybe SMASH will be responsible for more viewers for next year’s Tony Awards telecast:), but for people really invested in theatre and those knowledgeable of the ins and outs of Broadway, there’s definitely an aspect of reality that this show lacks.

  • Kristi R-C says:

    One of the things I like about the show is they left the “theatre” part of it to theatre people. Love Donald Holder’s lighting designs, Marc Shaiman’s songs, Bernard Telsey’s casting, and the fact many of the people (Michael Reidel!) are folks you’d really run into if you were writing a new Broadway show.

  • Randy says:

    I have to disagree on point #2. Television has gotten a lot better over the last 15 years, and it’s because of the HBO effect. For me, I date it back to 1997 and “Oz.” Writing (and, therefore, performances) like I’d never seen before on TV, even on cable. And stylistically, the look and structure of the show new and interesting. Then along came “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos,” and so other pay TV folks caught on (“The Wire,” “Weeds”). These shows need to be watched from the beginning (for the most part). What has gone before is essential to everything that follows…and people were going with it. Suddenly basic cable and the networks had to keep up – 24, Lost, Madmen, Breaking Bad. Fans so passionate that word of mouth drives DVD rentals/purchases/on-demand viewing for others to go back and get up to speed. The long story lines are exactly what has improved the quality of what’s out there now, and in turn has pulled some heavy hitters onto the small screen as well as introducing new, remarkable talents.

  • Scott F. says:

    I absolutely love Smash. I consider myself to be an entertainment junkie, so when a show appeared on the tube that also contained my loves of music and theater, I was hooked. After watching the first episode and counting up all the “Broadway” actors, my first thought was… Is there anybody left on Broadway to do a show? (Of course I was only joking.)
    Many of you may not like the writing or the plot, but compared it to the other “stuff” that’s out there and you will find that it definitely rises to the top. Can improvements be made. Probably. But I love it. I pulled for Megan’s character in the beginning strictly because I knew her to be the “true Broadway” star. By the end of the season, I was a true Katherine fan as well. The closing number had me speechless and wishing Marilyn was a real show so that I could go see that number alone.
    Add more storylines if you want. Bring on more characters. Just keep the show on the air and don’t kill the current storyline.
    P.S. Some people have what we call morals. Yes you may not get the job or any job, but we hang on to our morals because we value them over fame and fortune.

  • Alan B. says:

    NBC needed a hit badly and they got one with “Smash.” As for missing a show and then not being able to “catch up” that is a pretty lame excuse in 2012. Doesn’t everybody have a DVR or TIVO? During the season I missed a few episodes when they first aired. But I either watched them in my office on my computer or on my DVR when I had the time. In fact, I must prefer to watch shows on my DVR without the commercials!
    The show will run for many years because it is great and because NBC doesn’t have to chutzpah to cancel something that Steven Spielberg brought to them!
    BTW, Debra Messing is great and should win an Emmy!

  • Zanne says:

    -) you’re right – TV AIN’T theatre and playwrights need to know the difference.

    -) Studio 60 syndrome compared as mini-series? Nothing like it. (Check them at the Paley Ctr) Complete 60-minute programs written mostly by playwrights making a transition to TV. (More stage than TV.)

  • James says:

    I’m with you Ken, RE: Point #3, I’ve said from day one that while I love musicals, I want to watch a TV show about making a musical, not a musical TV show about making a musical. Keep the musical numbers during scenes when they are rehearsing or on the stage… no need for a big musical number at a bowling alley.

  • “Smash” about putting on a Broadway show? It seemed more about casting a show then finding interesting ways to present the many varied parts of a Broadway show that need to come together. I felt they dragged out the casting of “Marilyn” way too long.. there were plenty of characters introduced whose roles are primed now for juicing. Agree about the gratuitous introduction of songs, they does not work on TV… that poor excuse for Angelica to sing “September Song?” C’mon! Why not focus on the dancers just a bit, or the set designers,,, ask them to design some sets dangerous to the performers, you catch my drift? They kept talking about “tech: rehearsal, but the only thing that seemed to go wrong with tech was again the casting situation, NOT the tech?!
    So much material there that could be worked into the plot. Theater is collaborative, not just casting the lead which occupied the entire first season? Time to open up just a bit more, they introduced some interesting threads…now start weaving. Use the characters, Mamie Gummer, Bernadette Peters etc….let’s see more. Perhaps they can make the director less mean, that got tired real fast…or show HOW and WHY he became so nasty?
    What usually works in any genre is a good STORY…without good stories, it’s over. There is certainly enough material there in the many characters for more plot points and back stories…
    looking forward to it all.

  • groucho says:

    How could you make a show about what is essentially a process, i.e. the making of a show, without each episode being dependent on what went before? Cop shows are about catching crooks–a different bunch each week–but Smash is by definition about making one show, so how could it even begin to function that way? I know, shows like The Mentalist have Red john as a constant evil shadow in the BG and indv. weekly plots, but still…

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