Wednesday, March 20, 2013

From SMASH to Crash: NBC Kills One of Its Few Good Shows

Memo to NBC:  Your unnecessary tinkering with what was a bona fide hit and solid freshman show has done so much damage that the program in question is almost unwatchable - and it's bleeding viewers.

I'm talking about SMASH, the musical drama that debuted on NBC last season to critical and popular acclaim. 

But NBC, which is the lowest rated network this season, decided to take one of last year's few winners and turn it into a loser.  Why would they do that?  In fact, the network announced earlier this week that the show is being moved to Saturday nights, a move known to kill most shows who go there.

Steven Spielberg, who brought this show to the airwaves, seems to have abandoned it. (Reports are that he recently embarked on a cruise around the world.)

During the first season, SMASH followed the professional and personal lives of its stars, Debra Messing (Julia) and Christian Borle (Tom), as they fought to produce a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe.  Secondary storylines involved the show's director, Derrick (Jack Davenport) and the two young women vying to be Marilyn, Katharine McFee (Karen) and Megan Hilty (Ivy).  There was also the great Angelica Huston and the scheming of her assistant, Ellis, to add comedy and intrigue.  With the musical numbers, the overall production was a lot of fun.  There was great music, dancing, drama and a little comedy along with good-looking stars and supporting characters.

Over the summer, news started trickling out.  Creator Theresa Rebeck was ousted as show runner and replaced by Josh Safran of "Gossip Girl" who is now executive producer.  Producers and writers were fired.  The show was revamped and new stars were hired.

Gone were Julia's husband (Brian d'Arcy James) and son (Emory Cohen), a good part of last year's drama.  The writing team of Julia and Tom were back-burnered and their partnership, with its electric camaraderie, was no longer central to the story.  We were left to wonder about Tom and his boyfriend.  Angelica Huston's love interest, Thorsten Kaye of All My Children fame, was all of a sudden in jail.

New to the scene were a couple of young men who appeared from nowhere to tempt Karen into getting their musical produced, Jeremy Jordan (Newsies) as bad-boy songwriter Jimmy Collins, and Andy Mientus (Off-Broadway's Carrie) as his little-boy sidekick, Kyle Bishop.

Most questionable was the addition of Sean Hayes, one of the show's executive producers, to a role that can only be considered superfluous. (If Hayes wanted to get himself some screen time, he could have found a much better way to do it than by casting himself as an appendage, rather than a real part of the story.  Hayes is a very talented guy.)

In short, the show is now in shambles.

With NBC's ratings in the dumpster, along with the fact that a number of its shows are ending this season (The Office, 30 Rock, Community), the network needs to take immediate action to get SMASH back on track.  Could they pull a Dallas and have one of the characters wake up from a dream, erasing this whole season (a la Bobby Ewing back in the 80's)?  Or can they do so by bringing back the original staff and cast?  Either way, it's time for the writers to get back to the old story and restore the magic this show had when it debuted.

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