So long, Smash. We’ll miss you.

Oh Smash.  I had such high hopes for you.  And now, you’re (tear, tear), gone.

For the second time in the past five-or-so years, another giant NBC network show about Broadway has . . . well, let’s just say it, shall we . . . flopped.

The first was the “You’re The One That I Want” Grease reality show that failed to capture the huge audiences that its British counterparts (Joseph, Sound of Music, Oliver) did.  Well, at least it gave us Laura Osnes, right?

I am so thankful to NBC for having the courage to try and make a show about Broadway work.  This kind of exposure to millions of people all over the world about what we do is arguably the biggest weapon we have in the war on audience development.  

But let’s admit it . . . that’s two strikes against Broadway on television.

And that means, we’re almost out.

See, the worst part about these two failures is that TV doesn’t like to give topics more than two chances.  It’s probably going to be awhile before someone takes a shot on a Broadway themed anything on a network.

So what didn’t work?  Is it because our industry is so niche that not many people care about its drama (as opposed to medical dramas and police dramas that feature high stakes and workplaces that we all can understand)?  Is it because singing and dancing in a show was designed to be done on a stage, and not on a flat screen?  Or was it simply an execution problem – were the shows just not very good?

Honestly?  I’m mostly thinking execution here.  I thought the Grease show could have been a rama-lama-ding-dong more exciting with just a few different twists and turns.  And I thought Smash started off strong, but struggled with its gotta-be-like-Glee mentality and a too-serial-of-a-story structure to be as thrilling as we had hoped.

So yes, I still think there’s a Broadway based TV show out there that the mass public will embrace (and I’ve actually got an idea for one that I’ll put down on paper someday when the Smash smoke clears).

And we should all pray that we get another pitch to swing at, because while it may be called the Boob Tube, it could be the fastest way to get more butts in seats.

 

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  • Angela says:

    In all honesty, Smash’s biggest failure was the night it was aired on. If you notice, it did well in the DVR ratings, but it’s live ratings were always low. I believe if the show had aired on late Sunday or Monday night, when most of the theatre industry (aka it’s target audience) is not working, then it would have done much better.

  • I’ve got to agree with Ken – the biggest fault I heard, even from people who loved the show, was that the writing was sub-par.

  • W. Squier says:

    As someone who enjoyed SMASH and will miss it, I think the problem was ultimately one of finding the correct balance. The episodes that worked the best, in my opinion, were ones that either (a.) dispensed with the plot and just gave us a lot of musical numbers or (b.) focused on the melodrama and did away with most of the music! It might have helped if people who write musicals (like Shaiman and Wittman) were as involved in scripting the episodes as they were in writing the original numbers — people who have spent years figuring out how to balance those two elements.

  • There have been successful Broadway-like shows with original music. Anyone remember “Fame”? So what doomed Smash. The answer – of course – is what dooms many a Broadway show with great music: The book.

    The writing devolved in the show very quickly (like mid-first-season) from a show about the drama of getting a production on Broadway (which was interesting) into a soap opera, and the changes made in the 2nd season made it more of a soap opera.

    Combine this with the fact that for both seasons it started as a mid-season show (hurting the promotion of the property), with a changed timeslot from the first season.

    What are the lessons to take from this:

    1. It’s the writing, stupid. Don’t just depend on your music and stars. You have to have a compelling and well-written story.

    2. Scheduling and location are important. People need to be able to find your product when they want to find it.

    3. Consistency is important. If you teach people to go someplace for your product, you better be there when they want you.

  • Christine Garfinkel says:

    I was very sad when I heard the news the other day that SMASH was being cancelled! Do you think there would be any chance that the producers/writers (Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, etc.) would attempt to bring Bombshell to Broadway Ken?

    • marie says:

      I will miss Smash. Please someone else give pick it up. It was truely one of the better shows. I guess I will give up cable if all shows become a reality/jerry springer type.

  • George Rady says:

    Let’s go out on a limb a bit here…

    Maybe what people WANT to see on Broadway… is NOT what they wanna see on the TV (even with a large screen and surround the livingroom sound…) Maybe there are two – different – audiences and there’s very little cross over….

    I am a big fan of Theatre, Opera, Ballet, Films and, less so, Televsion… and I don’t like to mix ’em up. Certain things are BEST in the medium that best supports the underlying aesthetics… certain “films” and best for the Big Screen and a Large Audience… other films are more easily enjoyed in the livingroom….

    And I don’t like seeing Broadway i.e. Musicales on TV – I want to see LIVE performances where ANYTHING could happen… with LIVE muscians… and feel the warmth of the audience as the show gains momentum (or even the coolness when it’s starting to flop)

    (And I don’t want my opera messed up with Broadway staginness… like this year’s “Rigoletto” when it takes away from the singing….)

    I had NO interest in watching “Glee” or “Smash” and I LOVE BROADWAY musicals.

    But there might be one more element that did not work for me… not a fan about performers singing and dancing about “performing” Not a fan of “Chorus Line” – I prefer my shows to be about something other than Singers and Dancers – even as a big Broadway fan…

    So watching singers and dancers sing and dance, taped, edited, cut and commercialized… about becoming singers and dancers on Broadway…

    Quite frankly, “Survivor” is much more intriguing… for the medium.

    g

  • Elisa Christina Clayton says:

    I love the show and agree with Angela that moving it from Monday night when the ratings were strong(The night when theatres are dark)and the departure of the original writer, Theresa Rebeck, were the major death knells to the show.

  • George Rady says:

    p.s. and a LOT of drama, like “Downton Abbey” is BEST seen in the intimatacy of my lovingroom… so I get get close and personal with the charaters I have grown to love… and cry like I lost my 1st Love when tragedy strikes… can’t even conceive of it being done as a “stage drama”

  • Bunny says:

    When I was about 17 a director told me “You can’t be given the spotlight, you have to take it.” Peters takes that spotlight and it is so much fun to watch her do it. Borle is another one. The so-called stars of that show within a show? Not so much. If the cast AND the script are dreary, the only question is how did it stay on for so long? So happy I don’t have to watch it anymore, willing them to pull up their bootstraps.

  • Marina Barry says:

    I’m sad Samsh has been cancelled and agree to what has already been said (well mostly) but for me the main reason I will sorely miss it is there isn’t a show on tv with the production values that Smash had. The numbers were first rate, the costumes, and even tho the writing was lacking and sometimes silly and fake still it was about what we do and I’d rather that as a choice than yet again another crime drama or reality show. As far as the actors themselves – they were wonderful – and it sure was fun to see Bernadette and Angelica and all of them going at it. I don’t care — I’ll say it — I LOVED SMASH!

  • Ren Lexander says:

    There was so much wrong with Smash….
    Let’s start with a minor but horrible mistake: the casting of Angelica Houston… ouch…
    The problems is not in the writing – the writers are just fulfilling the concepts that are set by the shows originator, script editors, etc.
    The problem was that it didn’t learn the right lessons from Glee. Let’s look at some of the things that Glee has that Smash didn’t:
    A sense of humor!
    Theme for the week. A thematic exploration of an issue. Reflected in song choice.
    Endearing quirky characters.
    In the end, Smash came across as an average soap (infidelity, betrayal, screaming arguments, who-is-bedding-who) with slick musical numbers.
    I thought the second season was better because at least it got away from the stock-standard musical Broadway Bombshell. But too little too late.
    I think if would have been better to not take itself so seriously and do something more in the structural vein of Arrested Development or Modern Family where characters talk as if interviewed in a mockumentary…
    Smash crashed because it lacked daring.

    • rachel says:

      To me…Ren Nailed it! Broadway turned into a soap opera. For a play to really make it on Broadway the dialogue has to sharp, real, tight, smart. Smash, while I watched all of them, yeah DVR…overall it really lacked any Broadway caliber.

  • Alexander Yagolnik says:

    I think, Smash-2, without Theresa Rebeck, simply became not so interesting, synthetic – as Smash-1. Unfortunately. But I loved Smash-1!

  • Well love it or hate, we learned two things from Smash.
    1. If you are going to cast the wonderful Wesley Taylor you really should have given him more to do.
    2. Andrew McMahon has a Broadway musical in him, and if someone doesn’t work a deal and get him started on it then they are missing a tremendous opportunity I for one would gladly pay to see.

  • Scott Briefer says:

    I’m in agreement with you… Smash was just poorly executed. I too believe there is a great TV soap about the lives of Broadway artists, but Smash just wasn’t it.

  • Diana Lipkus says:

    I will miss Smash. I hope Steven Spielberg will market the show to cable for a new third season with renewed life by way of new story lines that are compelling, new writers and even more guest stars .
    In my local market the TV geniuses aired the show 1 hour before the advertised time after they changed the date. It seemed they were on a mission to intentionally kill the show.
    The initial success of Smash likely advanced TV show Nashville’s arrival to the tube. Ironically, Nashville has been renewed while we see Smash leaving broadcast TV. I shed a sincere tear!;(

    PS. remember that you can pick up any missed shows or relive the fun and drama by visiting the NBC network website.

  • Bobby Everett says:

    I agree with Ken that execution was a problem. I think the show would have been a bigger success with better writers and a decent time slot. I feel the network damaged this show by not giving it as much attention as other successful shows. You do not start a new show in the middle of the season and then it doesn’t come back on for nearly 8 months. I think people lost interest when it was off the air for so long before the second season started.

    But I think the main reason SMASH was cancelled was because they needed better writers for the show. Season one started out strong but then we started seeing episodes that were like the previous episodes. Then they got rid of the head writer and brought in a writer who got the show interesting by using other plots making the show even more interesting. But still the writing was weak in some ways. I think they should have brought in better writers and kept the story line more true to the REAL Broadway. I think when they killed off “Kyle” that ended the show. It was beginning to look like a soap opera instead a high quality show about the world of Broadway. I would hope someone on another station or a producer would still see the potential of the show and pick it up but bring in a better writing team.

  • Ed says:

    I must admit that even after Smash devolved into a soap I continued to watch. I understand that the nature of the business demands that you cast as wide a net as possible which means “soap-like” intrigue each week.

    I much better show, in my opinion, was Slings & Arrows”. Produced by the CBC it lasted just 3 seasons but it is available. It just had a better balance of the art of theatre and the intrigue. And a bonus for those of us that toil in the non-profit world, there was some recognition on what it really takes to put on a season in a non-profit theatre

  • I loved Jack Davenport. Okay, the truth is I love anyone who was involved in the British version of Coupling. So I’m kinda wishing this was Coupling the musical.

    I’m also impartial when it comes to Kat MacPhee.

    Loved the musical numbers. Didn’t love the songs except for the brilliant one after Kyle’s death. I’m not a Scott Wittman fan– his songs are clever without hitting a deep emotional place. I love to be emotionally transformed by a number once in a while.

    But I’ve watched every episode and I’d keep going. It doesn’t have to be perfect for me to care a lot about a show about Broadway.

    At the same time, it really doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go at this point. There’s not a plotline that’s worth wondering about– and having Angelica Huston’s husband bring Hit List to Broadway seems silly.

    Too bad it wasn’t done as a limited series.

    The ratings were really bad long before it started moving around, so canceling it is the only move possible.

  • Stephen Buckle says:

    Smash – more medya-about-medya; the continuing trend that feeds Joe Public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for this format. Admittedly there are blockbuster musicals that are entertainment about entertainment – Phantom topping the charts. We turn on the ‘serious’ TV news channels only to be bombarded with the back stories (usually off screen shenanigans) of TV shows that are themselves about TV or entertainment, epitomising a World that is disappearing up its proverbial. I’m not sure a TV series about the theatre industry will put more bottoms into seats (so don’t panic Ken). Quality writing, the best creative teams, and talented actors are what make stage successes.

  • Stephen Buckle says:

    PS: so as we can see, this strand is media(blog)-about media(TV)-about media (Theatre). That’s disappearing up our own proverbials, chasing our tails instead of keeping our eyes on the target.

  • SJThespian says:

    As many others have said, what doomed Smash was the writing. The music was good, the characters engaging, but the book was a disaster. They didn’t seem to know from week to week whether it was a show about putting a show on, or a soap opera. If they would have picked one or the other it could have been great (as parts of the first season were); but since they couldn’t, it wasn’t.

    As for the Grease reality show, they made the same mistake of oh so many: copy something that was done elsewhere and make a mess of it. To be honest, I never saw the show, but I have seen the UK version and loved them. I don’t know how they tweaked it in the US (what little I have found on youtube make it look very similar). It could very well be because they didn’t have the star power on the judging panel that they had in the UK, it’s hard to compete with the name recognition of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

  • CAG says:

    I absolutely loved SMASH. It was one of the only shows I couldn’t wait to see and I didn’t want it to ever end. I think moving the night to Saturday didn’t help anything. I think if it was left to run right after the Voice, then it could have made it.

  • Caroline Maloney says:

    I loved Smash. I thought there was finally an adult show that wasn’t about cussing or killing. It was like getting a backstage tour of a Broadway show in the making. It was interesting albeit sometimes cliche (gotta be honest); but, what television show isn’t?

    I loved the characters and the plots twists and turns. I was sad to see it go. For me, it was on the level of those great variety shows that I grew with – another great format lost to ratings. Re the DVR ratings, I have to say I am guilty. The only reason I am guilty is because they kept moving the time slot around and putting the show in competition with popular reality shows or some of my SYFY favorites. It was hard to choose but so I always recorded.

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