Smash's New Boss Tries to Turn Hate-Watchers into Hope-Watchers in Season 2
Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee | Photo Credits: Will Hart/NBC
All eyes are on Smash as the NBC musical drama prepares to unveil its second season on Tuesday (9/8c on NBC). But it's not because fans are dying to know whether Ivy (Megan Hilty) survived her possible pill overdose or if Karen (Katharine McPhee) ditched her cheating boyfriend — it's because fans are waiting to see just how much the Smash they loved, and more famously loved to hate, has changed its tune.
Premiering on NBC a year ago with impressive critical acclaim and almost inescapable advertising, Smash follows the creation of Bombshell, a new Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, and the characters involved behind the scenes. Over the first season, ingénues Karen and Ivy tried to out-diva each other for the main role while juggling messy love lives, lyricist Julia (Debra Messing) cheated on her husband with Bombshell's male lead, and producer Eileen (Anjelica Houston) struggled to get the show off the ground and emerge from her estranged husband/producing partner's shadow.
But despite boasting an Oscar winner (Huston), an Emmy winner (Messing) and Steven Spielberg as an executive producer, Smash quickly went from critical darling to Twitter punch line. Many criticized the inconsistent tone that made characters like Ivy go from wounded victim to scheming villain in 60 seconds flat and outlandish musical numbers like Karen's over-the-top Bollywood fantasy number. Oh, and did we mention the single weirdest response to a marriage proposal ever: "I'm in tech"? Instead of spawning hit songs or thoughtful discussion, Smash quickly became synonymous with the rise of hate-watching, aka watching a show despite the fact that viewers, well, hate it. "I really do believe it was more hope-watching than hate-watching," Smash's newly installed showrunner Josh Safran tells TVGuide.com. "Hate-watching to me seems like that saying of 'It's so bad, it's good.' I felt like the audience of Smash — when I read the comments and concerns and when I had my own, it was always: 'Oh, I so wish that X had happened.' Not, 'I wish X hadn't happened.'"
No matter what you call it or how it's defined, NBC heard the show's many detractors loud and clear. A month before the end of the show's freshman run, NBC announced that the musical drama would be returning, but with Gossip Girl's former showrunner Safran at the helm instead of creator Theresa Rebeck, who exited the show. It was clear early on that Rebeck would not be the only major departure (RIP, Julia's scarves!). "By the time I came to the table, I think everybody had very clearly defined what they felt the pros and cons were of Season 1," Safran says. "I know that [executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan] have talked about how they read the boards, and read Twitter. They were abreast of how the audience was feeling, so I think as a member of the audience, when I came here, I think we really were in agreement."
A top priority on Safran's agenda was clearing up exactly what Bombshell was really about. "I really liked how fast Season 1 went, but I never got a full understanding of the context of the plot of Bombshell," he says. "It was these pockets of her life, incredibly musicalized and choreographed, but never fully in the context of the story line."