NBC's Smash Is Terrific Fun (With One Caveat)

NBC’s much-hyped Smash premieres tonight, February 6 at 10p, although one wonders if there’s anyone left who hasn’t already seen this show.

On January 9th, NBC hosted screenings of the pilot in 10 local markets - Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, L.A., Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Oregon and San Francisco.

On January 16, the pilot started streaming on all NBC digital download partners, including iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, PlayStation, Voodoo and Samsung Media Hub.  On the same date, and leading up to the premiere of the show, all of NBC On Demand partners had it, Comcast and all of the affiliates.

As of January 23rd,  the show started streaming online via NBC.com and Hulu up until the premiere.

The NYT reported today: Estimated expenditures for outside media on Smash have reached as high as $25 million. That includes things like billboards, print ads, taxicab spots and the lavish, laminated, 40-page Broadway-style program book that NBC sent to the press. It does not include the value of all the promotional mentions that have appeared elsewhere — between shows, in the middle of shows, on the bottom of the screen during shows — on NBC and its sister channels (USA, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, etc.) over the last month.

Is Smash worthy of this unprecedented publicity push?  The short answer is yes.  The series is the most exciting, lavish, almost-like-cable network fun in years.  The show charts the course of a Broadway musical production from workshop to opening night.  Two big talents vie for the part of Marilyn Monroe: Karen,  a fresh-faced girl from Iowa, and Ivy, a voluptuous Broadway veteran.  The superb cast includes Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, and Broadway star Megan Hilty (Wicked).  There’s even a Simon Cowell sound-alike, a manipulative (but occasionally sympathetic) director.

First, how can you not love Debra Messing?  Just not possible.  And there’s almost nothing more entertaining than watching Anjelica Huston as the tough producer strut confidently down the sidewalks of New York City.  And hello! Megan Hilty, soon to be a television household name.  It remains to be seen if the one  casting misstep is Katharine McPhee as Karen.  McPhee has been heavily featured in the promos but her voice doesn’t seem quite big enough for Broadway.

The series is laden with Broadway production recruits.  The original music is written by Tony winners Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (Hairspray) .  Another Tony winner, Michael Mayer (just off the short-lived On A Clear Day with Harry Connick Jr.,) directed the first three episodes, including the pilot.

Smash is ambitious (understatement).  At least in the pilot and the first few episodes provided by NBC, ambition does not outstrip execution.  The musical numbers are energetic and one wonders/hopes/prays the writers and cast can maintain the breathless pace throughout a full season.

The excitement was palpable at Television Critics Association press tour.  NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt introduced the panel of cast and producers who were almost giddy.   Executive Producer Steven Spielberg delivered a short video message.  “I can’t tell you how much fun it is to do this show and how invested Steven Spielberg has been every step of the way. He spent the last few months in Virginia shooting Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis,” said Greenblatt, “but he’s never missed a step with us. He’s read every script. He’s given us notes on every cut, and even personally supervised the editing of several musical sequences.”

The series moves along at wonderfully satisfying pace – until…..eeek!  The dreaded, family schmoop subplot.  Someone deemed it necessary to insert a baby adoption storyline, as if the show didn’t already have enough backstage complexity and conflict.

The show is just humming along, making you go MORE, MORE, MORE, oh, god, just MORE, and then…..screeeeech!!!!!! The show hits the brakes so hard you can almost smell the smoke and rubber.  There’s one saccharine conversation between mother and teenage son that derails the show.

If you’re using Comcast On Demand services to watch, for the pilot at least, the system won’t allow fast forwarding.  The dreck is short-lived and the show miraculously jumps right back to its delicious fun.

Here’s the Playbill that NBC distributed at Television Critics Association.