Last season, on the heels of a $25 million promotional campaign and a lead-in from “The Voice,” the NBC-TV premiere of “Smash” drew around 11.4 million viewers. On Tuesday, February 4, its return could only grab the attention of an average of 4.6 million. That’s not good news for a show on which Robert Greenblatt, the network’s entertainment chief, has placed a huge number of chips. The episodes in this soapy series about the mounting of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe are reported to cost about $3.5 million each. They feature splashy production numbers including a couple, in the course of this season’s launch, from guest star Jennifer Hudson as a Tony-winning diva.
Tuesday’s two-hour special unveiled the efforts of the new creative team led by Josh Safran. The “Gossip Girl” producer replaced Theresa Rebeck, the celebrated playwright who had created the series from an idea by its executive producer, Steven Spielberg. Safran’s arrival signaled the departure of a number of cast members as their parts were written out, and the introduction of some new ones, most notably Broadway’s Jeremy Jordan (“Newsies,” “Bonnie and Clyde”) as a hot young songwriter in the mode of the late Jonathan Larson (“Rent”). His disputatious character joins those of regulars Debra Messing, Christian Borle, Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee, and Megan Hilty.
While the show garnered good critical notices last year, it has been met with a largely tepid critical response this time around. Mike Hale, writing in the New York Times, went so far as to say that the initial “overwhelming positive” reviews for the pilot had gotten it wrong since “the show was no good right from the start.” That seems a little harsh. But there’s no question that “Smash” is on the ropes as it enters its second season. That has put a pall over the Broadway community, which took a proprietary, if snarky, interest in a show about itself. The rap against it from insiders is that it has committed the unforgivable sin of making their world seem dull and foolish. Folly may be a constant. But boredom? Not when you’ve got lawsuits flying around Broadway as director Julie Taymor continues her bitter fight with the producers of “Spider-Man” and Ben Sprecher of the bizarre “Rebecca” debacle suing everybody from fraudsters to whistle blowers.
Image: Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright in NBC’s “Smash”/Craig Blankenhorn/NBC