I may take exception from time to time with some of what Ken Davenport has to say on his “Producer’s Perspective” blog, but he and I have somewhat similarly evangelical approaches to the stage and are therefore in pursuit of common goals. He is more commercially minded than I am, but we have come up in the business in different ways, and ply our trade in different areas; his enthusiastic drumbeating for tonight’s premiere of Smash as a vehicle for Broadway vitality should come as no surprise to anyone. In a blog post of just 185 words, he exhorts his readers that they must watch tonight’s broadcast because of what it will mean for Broadway – and mentions Broadway nine times. Just in case we missed it.
I fully intend to watch Smash tonight at 10 pm and I hope to enjoy it; I casually know lots of people involved and I wish them only the very best. While I’ve read some pieces that suggest I may find some issues (notably those raised by Rob Weinert-Kendt at The Wicked Stage, Frank Rizzo of The Hartford Courant and Kevin Fallon in The Atlantic), I will make up my own mind. I should point out that I downloaded the first episode several weeks ago, but haven’t watched it like seemingly everyone else I communicate with online; I want to see it in its hi-def glory tonight at 10, like in my youth when TV couldn’t be time-shifted.
Tomorrow by late morning, the overnight ratings will tell us if Smash had a successful first night, but no matter what’s reported, it won’t be a definitive referendum on the show. In light of the unending promotional build up, they could show grainy YouTube videos of high school musicals on NBC tonight at 10 and probably get a decent audience share; only time will tell if the audience sustains as the promotional barrage recedes. Anything less than huge numbers will set off predictions of the show’s imminent demise, but with much of the 15-week season one already in the can, NBC is likely to give the show time to find its audience, so once again, time will tell.
There’s no question that Smash can have a salubrious effect on Broadway if it succeeds, although I wonder whether there’s been a true cause-and-effect between Glee and participation in show choirs and drama clubs. I pray that, along the way, Smash doesn’t bash Off-Broadway and regional theatre in an effort to idolize the Great White Way, because countless theatre professionals do superb and varied work without setting foot on Broadway or even in New York, work that is enjoyed by and meaningful to audiences nationally. I hope that Smash’s truthful insights from its creative staff of theatre pros outweigh its dramatic license; after all, the only U.S. TV series to grapple with theatre recently were the hokey “reality” competitions to cast a replacement for Legally Blonde and the leads in the most recent revival of Grease (at least the latter launched the luminous Laura Osnes). I’m sure Smash can do better. I dream that Smash aspires to the giddy, funny and moving heights of Slings and Arrows, to this date the best television series ever about theatre, IMHO.
But must you watch Smash tonight? No. It’s not your job to be a cog in the marketing machinery of NBC, Broadway or anyone else for that matter. Frankly, if you’re reading Ken Davenport’s blog or mine, you’re already part of the core group that is taken as a given in the show’s viewership (which caused Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker, demonstrating that magazine’s usual respect for the stage, to observe that “the Broadway-show audience, if every ticket-holder tuned in, would probably fit into the bodice of The Voice‘s Christina Aguilera”), so you’re not going to make the difference. What will truly matter is whether the storytelling, the time slot, the marketing and all the other variables that matter on television align with the mass audience required to make a successful TV show.
Watch Smash. Don’t watch Smash. Watch Castle. Read a book. Go out with friends. Get to bed early post-Super Bowl. See a live performance. Do whatever you like at 10 tonight. Perhaps Smash will become “appointment viewing.” But god forbid it’s seen as “assignment viewing.” That’s the fastest way to take the fun out of anything. And I’m really hoping that Smash is a lot of fun, instead of just good for business.