Hip Hooray and Ballyhoo: "Smash," Scripted Drama About Broadway Musical Makers, Will Be NBC Series

By Kenneth Jones
12 May 2011

The subculture of the Broadway musical theatre will come into American homes weekly in the form of the hour-long TV drama "Smash," the pilot of which has been picked up for an NBC series, the network announced.



Expected to be shot in New York City, as was its pilot, the series — the brainchild of Steven Spielberg — will give New York City actors (many of them theatre people) a paycheck and much exposure in the coming months. Whether the show pushes the American musical back to the forefront of pop culture (remember Ed Sullivan regularly showcasing Broadway on his show?) has yet to be seen.

In the pilot for the drama (with music, and humor) Christian Borle, a Tony Award nominee for Legally Blonde, played a composer, and Debra Messing ("Will & Grace") played the lyricist, in a story of the making of a new Broadway musical about the life of icon Marilyn Monroe.

The pilot also featured Katharine McPhee, the one-time "American Idol" contestant, as a beautiful struggling actress who goes to all lengths to book the lead in the musical.

McPhee — a 2006 runner-up in the talent competition's fifth season — is in the company of Jack Davenport (playing a choreographer), Tony nominee Brian d'Arcy James (Sweet Smell of Success, Shrek) as the husband of Messing's character 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).

A cast for the series has not been announced; pilot performers often carry over into series.

Playwright-screenwriter Theresa Rebeck (Mauritius, Our House, "NYPD Blue") penned the pilot, which launches the series about the bumpy development of a multimillion dollar Broadway musical.

"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. The pilot was fast-tracked for early-spring production so it could be considered for a life on the 2011-12 TV schedule. The series is from Universal Media Studios and DreamWorks. Its first airdate has not been announced.

Spielberg will executive-produce along with Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank (of DreamWorks), Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("Chicago," "Hairspray," Broadway's Promises, Promises and How to Succeed…) and Rebeck, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Tony Award-winning songwriters Shaiman and Wittman (Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can) will 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) directed 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 Marilyn Monroe show-within-the-show might also be developed, for legit production after the first season airs.

The stage show at the center of the series is not related to any existing musical.The series is not based on the Garson Kanin novel, "Smash," which is also about the creation of a Broadway musical.

Some publications have characterized "Smash" as being akin to the hit Fox musical series "Glee," but don't expect a knockoff. Songs in "Smash" are expected to be specifically related to the writing or rehearsal of numbers for the show-within-the-show. The whimsy of "Glee" is the not intent of the creators of "Smash."

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.