×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Smash’ Crash: After Finale, Seeking Lessons for TV

As curtain falls, what TV shouldn't take away from NBC's not-so-"Smash"-ing experience

Hollywood has a way of deriving the wrong lessons from both failure and success. So in bidding a final farewell to “Smash” — which wrapped up its tumultuous two-season run with a “Let’s dump this on Memorial Day weekend” two-hour finale Sunday — a few parting thoughts.

Whenever something ostensibly risky doesn’t work, TV execs — particularly those laboring at the major networks — like to use that to bolster their impulse to stick to the tried and true. In this case, many argued before the series premiered that it’s primarily elites on the coasts who attend musical theater, so it’s easy for showbiz types to delude themselves into thinking there’s a mass audience for a series about a Broadway show. Frankly, this argument is as old as “Cop Rock,” which — unlike “Smash” — didn’t even open.

Still, “Smash” didn’t fail because it was a musical soap opera. It failed because (unlike “Cop Rock”) it was a bad musical soap opera — or more specifically, because the promise of its first few episodes and thrill of discovering its female leads vying for the part of Marilyn Monroe, Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty, wasn’t sustained past episode three. The margin for error might be smaller for a show like “Smash,” but assuming that’s true, there were nevertheless far too many creative missteps to survive.

The producers, moreover, stumbled not with the relative unknowns they assembled, but foremost with the recognizable names, particularly Debra Messing and to a lesser degree Anjelica Huston. In short, they seemingly didn’t trust a show about hungry young Broadway wannabes to get by on theatrical talent, but rather felt compelled to surround them with stars, whose plots were almost uniformly teeth-gnashing. Stunt casting in the later episodes (Sean Hayes, all is not forgiven) only made matters worse.

As New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood shrewdly observed, the series repeatedly engaged in “the kind of compromises that can turn an edgy, fresh show into something that resembles a bland, assembly-line-produced product: precisely what ‘Smash’ turned out to be.” Indeed, it’s hard to say “Smash” lacked the courage of its convictions, because in hindsight, it’s hard to discern what those convictions were.

Finally, NBC did the show no favors by continuing to cling to its “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” public-relations approach when many perceived (correctly, I’d argue) that the program had gone off the rails creatively in addition to losing a sizable chunk of its audience. That included NBC Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt adhering to his description of the program as “an unqualified success,” when you didn’t need to be a research ace to recognize the claim didn’t hold water.

The closing hours highlighted just how seriously the show had lost its way, which included producing music videos that dispensed with any connection between original songs being rehearsed and performed on stage and people walking down the street (multiple people, in the case of a tepid cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure”) belting out tunes. Fittingly, the final image (and SPOILER ALERT, assuming anyone cares) was a McPhee-Hilty show-stopper, which only reinforced, in a melancholy way, just how much the initial spark had been lost.

During the finale, Messing’s character huffs at one point that the press “will twist anything for a story.”

Perhaps so. But in the case of “Smash,” the media vultures didn’t really need to bother. The show failed. But that’s not a referendum on musicals, or serialized dramas, or shows with too many gay characters, or networks trying to do something a little bit different or outside their comfort zones.

It’s simply a referendum on “Smash.”

More TV

  • Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner's Hazy

    Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner's Hazy Mills to Co-Produce SAG Awards

    Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner’s Hazy Mills Productions have joined the SAG Awards producing team. The guild announced this morning that Kathy Connell will once again serve as the show’s producer along with Hayes and Milliner in partnership with Avalon Harbor. “Attending the SAG Awards has always been a pleasure and a privilege for me,” [...]

  • Alia Shawkat

    Alia Shawkat Joins Jeff Bridges in FX Drama Pilot 'Old Man' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alia Shawkat has been cast in the upcoming FX pilot “The Old Man,” Variety has learned exclusively. She joins previously announced lead Jeff Bridges as well as cast members John Lithgow and Amy Brenneman. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Thomas Perry, the series centers on Dan Chase (Bridges), who absconded from [...]

  • TV Ratings: 'The Simpsons' Soars, 'Batwoman'

    TV Ratings: 'The Simpsons' Soars, 'Batwoman' Dips

    Helped by a sizable NFL lead-in, “The Simpsons” aired its annual “Treehouse of Horror” episode to excellent numbers on Fox. Homer, Marge and co. were provided the highest rated scripted show on Sunday night, scoring a 2.1 rating among adults 18-49 and around 5.7 million total viewers. The rest of Fox’s Sunday Animation Domination was [...]

  • The Boys Amazon Prime

    Nielsen Adds Amazon Prime Video to SVOD Measurement, With Limitations

    After two years of measuring Netflix viewing, Nielsen has now added Amazon Prime Video to the mix of subscription-streaming services it tracks — and with the same set of limitations. Nielsen’s SVOD Content Ratings originally launched in October 2017 with Netflix. According to the research firm, the addition of Amazon Prime Video measurement will let [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Fox, Charter Strike New Carriage Deal

    Fox Corporation and Charter Communications, Inc. on Monday said they struck a new “long term” carriage deal for Fox’s suite of TV networks, the latest in a recent series of agreements Fox has struck with various distributors. Financial terms were not disclosed. The pact covers distribution of Fox Television Stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business [...]

  • Mike Birbiglia Sets Third Netflix Stand-Up

    Mike Birbiglia Sets Third Netflix Stand-Up Special

    Mike Birbiglia has set a third stand-up special at Netflix. The comedian is bringing his Broadway show “Mike Birbiglia: The New One” to the streamer, with a special set to launch on Nov. 26, 2019. Filmed at the Cort Theatre in Manhattan, the show sees Birbiglia blend observational and confessional comedy as he struggles with [...]

  • ‘Marcella’ Producer Buccaneer Hires Richard Tulk-Hart

    ‘Marcella’ Producer Buccaneer Hires Richard Tulk-Hart as Co-CEO (EXCLUSIVE)

    Richard Tulk-Hart will join Tony Wood as co-CEO of Buccaneer Media, the U.K.-based producer of Netflix and ITV hit series “Marcella.” Tulk-Hart is joining Buccaneer from A+E Networks, where he is managing director for international, working across distribution, formats and co-productions. Prior to A+E, Tulk-Hart worked at Fremantle, IMG, and Miramax in senior roles. He [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content