There's something about NBC that anything you air on the network, no matter how good, has a chance of flopping before it even gets out of the gate.
A lot of it is because there are not many people watching the network's other programming to allow it to promote its new offerings. And that's probably why NBC spent at least $10 million and maybe even $20 million (depending on who you asked) promoting its new musical drama "Smash" all over the place -- outside of NBC.
NBC even made the bold move of sharing its pilot with viewers ahead of Monday's premiere. That could really affect premiere ratings for the show, but as long as it translates into a much bigger audience overall, I'm sure NBC will be OK with it.
"Smash" is from executive producer Steven Spielberg, who also brought us the likely-to-be-cancelled "Terra Nova" on Fox this year as well. It has an excellent cast in the form of Debra Messing ("Will & Grace"), Jack Davenport ("Coupling"), Katharine McPhee ("American Idol"), Broadway actors Christian Borle and Megan Hilty, and the amazing Anjelica Huston.
Spielberg described "Smash" as a way to see the drama behind the curtain on Broadway, and watch as an idea gets developed and turned from simple concept to full-blown musical. It's a very bold undertaking, especially since there are some concerns by observers that general audiences may not be as interested in what happens with Broadway musicals like they are with behind the scenes of police stations or hospitals.
Yet, "Smash" is beautifully shot, cleverly written and well acted. And we haven't even started with the vocal talent. That blows away any other competitors, with McPhee and Hilty dominating with songs both popular in mainstream, and famous for Broadway.
Messing and Borle play Broadway writers who were actually taking a break when Borle's new scheming assistant, played by Jaime Cepero, suggests a musical on Marilyn Monroe. Before the idea can even sink in, the two are working on numbers and even have the attention of producer Eileen Rand, who is looking for something to sink her teeth into while the rest of her projects are tied up in a messy divorce.
The real drama, however, is between the characters of Karen Cartwright and Ivy Lynn, played by McPhee and Hilty. Lynn is a veteran Broadway performer, but always in an ensemble role and never on her own. Borle's character of Tom Levitt is enamored with Lynn's performance style, and wants her to play the lead in "Marilyn." However, Rand brings in director Derek Wills (Davenport) who, through auditions, falls completely for the fresh, innocent Cartwright.
Both have their advantages in playing the lead role, and both have their drawbacks, and even the creative team is divided on which way they should go.
Although it's not part of Monday's premiere, another cog in the wheel will come from an upcoming guest stint by movie actress Uma Thurman, who plays a movie actress who wants the lead role in "Marilyn" all to herself.
"Smash" is what "Glee" should have really been. Although the comedy and singing in the Fox series is great, the sad part is that the formula is too easy to become stale. It's come to the point where viewers don't really care that much for what's happening to the characters there, and that there really isn't that much at stake.
But although there are other plays and other auditions, you get pulled into "Marilyn" as if it's the best and only play out there for Broadway, and the winners and losers will have rewards (or repercussions) for a very long time.
One would expect Huston to dominate the show with her amazing acting talent. But while she shines, she does not overshadow everyone else. Borle and Hilty are unknown to non-Broadway audiences, yet they come across as true television veterans, and take on their roles with ease. McPhee, although being best known as an "American Idol" runner-up in the past, shows she can really act, and her ability to be innocent yet manipulative is not only easily believable, but fun to watch.
I fear that "Smash" is going to get sucked into the black hole of NBC, and I hope it doesn't. In fact, I hope this is the show that helps bring NBC out of the doldrums and back to being one of the powerhouse networks it has always been. I miss the dominance NBC used to have in terms of comedy and drama, and I know it can find itself there again. And if any show is going to do it, it's going to be "Smash."
If not, then I'm really worried about NBC.
"Smash" premieres Feb. 6 at 10 p.m. It will air in that slot regularly, after "The Voice" in a 15-episode run.
The pilot was written by series creator and Broadway writer Theresa Rebeck.
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