'Smash' Showrunner Josh Safran on Season 2 Changes: 'I Wanted to Create New Stakes for Everybody'
NBC Cancels 'Smash' After Two Seasons
Josh Safran has some big shoes to fill as he prepares to launch Smash's second, rebooted season and its first without creator and Broadway veteran Theresa Rebeck at its helm. After a creatively disappointing season that spawned the creation of the dubious term "hate-watching," Rebeck parted ways with the Broadway drama she created, with former Gossip Girl showrunner Safran taking the top job.
His first order of business was to clean house and rid the series of what he calls characters with short shelf-lives, including Karen's cheating boyfriend Dev, Julia's annoying husband Frank, and Ellis, who quickly became one of the small-screen characters that audiences most loved to hate.
In their place, Safran added a long roster of high-profile guest stars, including Jennifer Hudson, Liza Minnelli and Sean Hayes (a Will and Grace reunion!) as well as Broadway standouts such as Jesse L. Martin, Jeremy Jordan, Krysta Rodriguez and Nikki Blonsky, among others.
His mission was to revive the Broadway drama -- a pet project of NBC entertainment president Bob Greenblatt, who brought the Steven Spielberg-produced drama with him from Showtime -- and reverse the missteps that earned the series the dubious title of the most hate-watched show in primetime.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Safran to discuss his Broadway cred, goals as showrunner and the many ways the sophomore season of Smash will be different, including more pop songs, a larger episode order and appealing to the Gossip Girl set.
THR: Most people wouldn't associate the Gossip Girl showrunner with Broadway and Smash. How long have you been interested in musical theater?
Safran: I was a playwriting major at NYU. I wanted to be a playwright, but it didn't happen and I became a screenwriter instead. I dated one of the leads of the original cast of Rent (Anthony Rapp) when it opened on Broadway and moving forward. Being with Anthony for six years was very instrumental, and if I hadn't done that, I don't think I'd have this job.
THR: What lessons from Gossip Girl are you bringing to Smash?
Safran: Gossip Girl was really good at doing serialized television without it feeling gimmicky -- it felt like, "OK, that's who those characters are." Serena was always in her own way; Blair would always get very close but couldn't quite seal the deal, and that bedeviled her. It's fun to be able to take those soapy, serialized television lessons and apply them to Smash while still playing in a little bit more of a rarefied universe. Gossip Girl was about rich kids, and there are a lot of rich kids in the world. Broadway is a very small universe, so it's fun to take some of those tropes and put them on the small universe.