McPhee — a 2006 runner-up in the talent competition's fifth season — joins the already announced Jack Davenport (playing a choreographer), "Will & Grace" star Debra Messing (playing a lyricist) and Wicked and 9 to 5 star Megan Hilty (as "an actress who acts out scenes from the show" as it develops, according to published reports). Theresa Rebeck (Mauritius, Our House) penned the pilot, which would launch a series about the bumpy development of a big Broadway musical about movie star Marilyn Monroe.
"Smash" was to be a Showtime property when executive Robert Greenblatt (9 to 5: The Musical) was entertainment president there. Now that he's NBC's entertainment chair, the show's curtain will raise at the peacock network. Whether or not the pilot blossoms into a 24-episode season remains to be seen. The pilot is being fast-tracked for early spring production so it can be considered for a life on the 2011-12 TV schedule.
The series is the brainchild of Steven Spielberg, who will executive-produce along with Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank (of DreamWorks), Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("Chicago," "Hairspray," Broadway's Promises, Promises and the upcoming How to Succeed…) and Rebeck, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
Tony Award-winning songwriters Shaiman and Wittman (Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can) have been enlisted to write the songs of the show within the series. They are not expected to be playing characters in the series. Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Rebeck's Our House at Playwrights Horizons) will direct the pilot.
As previously reported, the scripted series — it's not a documentary or reality show — will trace the process of creating a new musical from conception to songwriting, the alignment of investors, through casting and the rehearsal process. A season would focus on one musical. Subsequent seasons would address other musicals, presumably with existing cast members and newcomers. The project is expected to be a drama with humor, with the season culminating in the musical's opening night — and, one guesses, the reviews in the newspapers. It was previously reported that a stageworthy version of the show-within-the-show might also be developed, for legit production after the first season airs.
The pilot is from Universal Media Studios and DreamWorks. The pilot is now in early development. There is no word on when the series might air if it gets picked up.
The stage show at the center of the series is not related to any existing musical. It's apparently not based on the Garson Kanin novel, "Smash," which is also about the creation of a Broadway musical.
Shaiman and Wittman most recently developed Spielberg's film "Catch Me If You Can" for the stage. Emmy Award-nominated producers Zadan and Meron (TV's "Annie," "Cinderella," "The Reagans," "Me and My Shadows," "A Raisin the Sun") brought the Shaiman-Wittman musical Hairspray to the big screen.