Broadway drama averaging 9.6 million viewers

The show will go on. NBC has demonstrated its faith in ambitious tuner drama “Smash” by giving it an early second-season renewal.

Nurturing “Smash” has been NBC’s primary focus this season, as the Peacock lavished the show with a generous marketing budget and the best launchpad on its sked, the Monday 10 p.m. slot following “The Voice.” It ranks as NBC’s top drama in the 18-49 demo, averaging 9.6 million viewers and a 3.4

rating/9 share in the demo, according to Nielsen data that includes full-week DVR playback where applicable.

The Universal TV series, about the makings of a Broadway musical that centers on Marilyn Monroe, came to the network from Showtime with NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt when he made the segue from the pay cabler.

“Smash” was created by Theresa Rebeck, who exec produces with Steven Spielberg, David Marshall Grant, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Series stars Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston and Jack Davenport.

The show’s perf has defied naysayers who predicted its tuner format and emphasis on original music by tunesmiths Shaiman and Wittman would be better suited to niche cable than broadcast. While “Smash” is not a blockbuster, its numbers have settled in to more-than-respectable territory, especially by NBC standards these days.

The renewal also gives NBC one less timeslot to fill when Greenblatt and his team decide on the fall schedule as the May upfronts quickly approach.

“Smash” has also clearly been helped by the lead-in power of “Voice,” which is, by far, NBC’s highest-rated show on the air. The question for NBC will be whether to keep “Smash” and “Voice” as a combo next season. Both premiered as midseason entries on the heels of NBC’s Feb. 5 Super Bowl telecast.

If both series do move to fall, as some predict, each can retain their respective 8 and 10 p.m. Monday timeslots and shift into the new season with scheduling consistency — a strategy that could pay dividends. With a handful of new shows popping up on the schedule, and some returning series moving timeslots, the tried and true could be a good way to retain viewers confused by the new fall scheduling paradigm.

One change going forward, however, for season two will be Rebeck’s responsibilities. She will no longer be the primary showrunner on the series, though she may continue to pen scripts for the show. It’s possible the day-to-day oversight could fall to Grant, or they may recruit from outside.

Rebeck’s departure comes in part because she has also has a busy career as a playwright, and even launched a Broadway show, “Seminar,” just weeks before “Smash” bowed. At the same time, there’s been some criticism of the creative direction of the show in the second half of its initial 15-episode run, so an influx of fresh talent may be beneficial all around.

“Smash” has improved the 10 p.m. Monday timeslot by 160% compared to this season’s other entries: short-lived period drama “The Playboy Club” and newsmag “Rock Center With Brian Williams.”

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