The NBC show “Smash” hardly dropped a bombshell when it announced that the final episode of its second season would also be its series finale. The television show about a fictional musical’s tumultuous road to Broadway experienced its own tumult from the start, never finding the sizable audience it needed to stay in business.
Many who have written about the failings of “Smash”, like Charles Isherwood HERE, have commented on the show’s sloppy storylines and overabundance of producing talent which may have caused a few too many creative differences on set. Both may be true, and I agree with all of Isherwood’s remarks, except his eagerness to say farewell to the show.
“Smash” has had some pointless arcs and ridiculous musical segments, but it was a fun show that featured immense talent – the compositions of Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman and the voice of Megan Hilty among them. I enjoyed it the way I enjoyed Season One of “Glee” (a show that has astonishingly stayed on the air).
I think the difficulty “Smash” faced (and this is from someone who genuinely hoped it would succeed) was that it wanted to be mainstream and insider at the same time. It strived to find wide appeal with an aspirational Broadway story while winking frequently at the select viewers who knew the reference points. Like featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda at a party telling an anecdote about Jonathan Groff; like Michael Riedel waxing judgmental, like Jordan Roth popping up at a business lunch. The expectation, however, for a show that inserts so many real-life theater makers into each episode is that it will maintain a level of authenticity throughout. It was perhaps the theater equivalent of a show like “Entourage” in which Vince and his crew would inevitably run into Matt Damon or Harvey Weinstein at a Hollywood party. But “Entourage” more successfully straddled the mainstream/insider line, and its share of far-fetched story lines never plagued the show; its popularity was always about guys in L.A. living the good life.
Ultimately, “Smash” didn’t make it as a mass-market show about getting famous, and it didn’t make it as a small, cult-like show for a tightly knit knowledgeable audience. It sat in the gray area of entertainment. And yet, I can’t help feeling that the cancelation of a TV show about theater is a sad sign for theater. “Smash” has become enough of a punchline that it all but ensures other networks won't explore any aspect of the theater world.
If there’s one successful element to “Smash” that transcends the run of the show it’s the enhanced recognition of Megan Hilty. She will now be known as more than the replacement Glinda in Broadway’s ongoing production of Wicked. You can almost envision the ad campaign for Hilty’s next Broadway show: “Starring Megan Hilty from the hit TV show, Smash."