Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
NBC’s multimillion-dollar, Steven Spielberg-produced new musical drama Smash rolled out at TCA this afternoon, carrying with it the primetime hopes and dreams of struggling NBC. To generate maximum sampling and word-of-mouth in advance of the show’s February 6 premiere, the network has launched an extensive promo campaign. It includes consumer screenings in 10 major markets next week, digital downloads over Apple iTunes and Amazon Video, VOD and in-flight screenings on American Airlines. (Fingers crossed that American’s declaration of bankruptcy won’t be a bad omen.) NBC.com and Hulu also will stream portions of Smash from January 23 through February 6. The heavy marketing push is understandable given the stakes for an expensive series whose pilot reportedly cost $7.5 million. And there’s its heavyweight pedigree — not just Spielberg but film, TV and Broadway producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan and many others. While there is an idea for the musical show about a theater staging a musical about Marilyn Monroe to spawn a real Broadway production of Merilyn, that is not the main goal, creator-exec producer Theresa Rebeck said. “What we are aiming to do is write a great television show. That is really what we’re all about. And what happens in the future, who knows? Like we could all die tomorrow or something.”
Rebeck was considerably more blunt in a December interview with New York Magazine. She was quoted as saying, “Look, I’m well aware of NBC’s desperate need for a hit, and I’m not afraid of it. I’m perfectly capable of delivering that.”
Smash stars Debra Messing of Will & Grace fame and Oscar-winner Anjelica Huston along with Broadway talents like Christian Borle, Brian d’Arcy James and Megan Hilty as well as American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee. Rebeck admitted today that she had been “interested in doing a show like this for years, and my agent just told me, ‘Don’t even bother pitching it.’ She didn’t but Spielberg did to then-Showtime entertainment president Bob Greenblatt who bought the idea right away. A few days later Rebeck’s agent got a call about her coming on board as writer. “I thought, I don’t know if I could write a great musical about Marilyn Monroe, but I do know that I can write a great television show about people trying to make a great musical about Marilyn Monroe.” It took a couple of years for the project to be developed at Showtime, and when Greenblatt, now at NBC, greenlighted it to pilot last January, there was already a successful musical series on TV, Fox’s Glee. “When Ryan Murphy did Glee, he broke a great barrier. He allowed the networks to really believe that there was room for drama, comedy and music in one show week after week,” Zadan said. “I don’t think that any of us feel our show is like Glee, though we feel grateful to Glee for opening that door.” Added Meron, who along with partner Zadan for many years single-handedly kept the musical form alive on TV: “I honestly believe that doing all of these TV musicals and then the feature film musicals kind of set the stage for something like Smash to occur.”