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Stagecraft Podcast: NBC’s Robert Greenblatt on ‘Rise,’ ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and What’s Next for ‘Smash’

Superfans and hate-watchers, take note: You may not have seen the last of “Smash.”

So says Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. The 2012 series about New York theater people was a polarizing phenomenon among real-life New York theater people — “Smash’ may have invented the concept of hate-watching,” Greenblatt jokes — but it’s still got a following. Interestingly enough, I hear more about people loving ‘Smash’ now than I ever did when it was on the air.”

Which is one of the reasons Greenblatt and the show’s team of creators and producers are exploring a future life for “Smash” beyond the Actors Fund concert staging of the original songs Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote for “Bombshell,” the Broadway-show-within-the-show. “We’ve been thinking about different ways to think about a stage musical based on ‘Bombshell’ or ‘Smash,'” Greenblatt reveals. “That’s all I’ll say. There’s an incarnation which could sort of combine both. … You may not have seen the last of ‘Smash’ yet. I think the next incarnation will be on stage.”

“Smash,” of course, is just one example of Greenblatt and NBC’s ongoing embrace of live performance and musical theater. The latest theater-centric offering is “Rise,” the new series that’s being described as “‘Friday Night Lights,’ but with theater.”

The first season of the show, which centers on one devoted teacher’s efforts to rejuvenate the high school theater program in a working class town, follows a turbulent production of “Spring Awakening.” And while there’s plenty of singing and performance in the first ten episodes, the early chapters won’t lead with those elements.

We consciously didn’t want it to be the first thing that hits you,” Greenblatt says of the theater segments. “We really wanted to bring the larger audience in with the drama of what’s going on with the parents and the town and the stuff that’s going on in school that isn’t necessarily directly related to the theater. And then the theater stuff sort of sneaks up on you.”

Also on NBC’s upcoming slate: “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a live broadcast of an Easter Sunday concert starring John Legend, Sara Bareilles and Alice Cooper. It’s the latest in the network’s ongoing series of live musical telecasts that started with “The Sound of Music.”

It’s just now part of our brand, I guess,” Greenblatt says. “We keep doing these musicals, and they’re really fun. People at the network get really excited about working on them, too. We only do one a year, but they’ve become big headlines for us.”

On Stagecraft, Greenblatt also address the status of “Bye Bye Birdie” and talks up “Mean Girls,” the new Broadway musical adaptation in which he’s an investor. He’s kept one hand in the New York theater industry ever since he was the lead producer of “9 to 5” back in 2009.

There’s a chance he might lead produce again sometime. “I would if I didn’t have this day job,” he jokes of his all-consuming gig at NBC. “I will say: I don’t know anything harder than being the lead producer of a Broadway musical.”

Download and subscribe to Stagecraft on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud. “Rise” airs Tuesdays on NBC, with “Jesus Christ Superstar” set for April 1.

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