Let’s just say it flat out. “Smash” is a train wreck of a show like few others we’ve ever endured on TV. And get ready. It’s headed right at us in Chicago on Monday, Feb 6., the day AFTER the Super Bowl.
In case you haven’t heard (though you should have, given the enormity of the hype this hopeless mess has already received), “Smash” is the new NBC prime time series that takes us behind the scenes to meet key characters involved in the creation of a new Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe (cue the music!).
Aside from the fact “Smash” is awful, it’s sure to make any number of executives at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 in Chicago very unhappy indeed for other reasons. Or should we say, more unhappy then they already are due to the mostly poor performance of NBC’s prime time lineup in recent years.
That poor-performing programming and the lack of audiences/ratings for it typically has resulted in lousy lead-in ratings for Channel 5’s all-important 10 p.m. newscast, which has languished in second place — never able, it seems, to convincingly challenge the late news on No. 1-rated WLS-Channel 7, the ABC owned-and-operated local outlet.
And as NBC’s newest late news lead-in offering, “Smash” certainly is not going to help Channel 5’s effort to overtake Channel 7. Of that we have no doubt.
Spielberg creator and executive producer
We also have no doubt why “Smash” is getting the choice prime time berth it most assuredly does not deserve. The principal reason, let’s be clear, is the all-mighty Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg, who allegedly conceived of the show and is billed as its executive producer.
In the eyes of Hollywood, of course, Spielberg can do no wrong, even though his latest cinematic project “War Horse,” hasn’t exactly been the box office blockbuster he might have hoped for. Even a number of critics have called it an overblown slog of a period horse story.
But before it’s over — which shouldn’t be long — “Smash” will make “War Horse” look like a masterpiece for the ages.
For you see Spielberg, in his infinite entertainment wisdom, made the cardinal mistake of assuming TV watchers would be deeply fascinated by a show that showed them how a Broadway musical comes into being through the eyes of its creators.
Consulting producer knows theater, but not TV
We know there is a story somewhere in that concept that is worth telling and that would indeed be a smash on television.
But not this unbelievably dreadful claptrap Spielberg has shepherded on to television with the help of principal writer Teresa Rebeck and director and consulting producer Michael Mayer.
How Rebeck became attached to the project is a mystery. She’s a second-rate playwright who clearly hasn’t a clue about crafting a hit TV series, even one about an art form she presumably knows well.
Though Mayer has a long list of theatrical director credits, he’s new to TV. And coincidentally, Mayer’s latest Broadway venture, a revised version of “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” with Harry Connick, Jr. is a bomb that is closing this week after just a few months run.
Inexplicably, the “Smash” pilot, directed by Mayer, has been posted on iTunes and elsewhere for all to see in advance of its Feb. 6 debut. And unless there is something extraordinarily special to be revealed in subsequent episodes, “Smash” will surely die a fast death.
Ridiculous, phony and clichéd scenes
Scene after scene rings false, but none more so than the all-important audition where actress (she wishes, anyway) Katherine McPhee is trying to land the role of Marilyn Monroe in that new musical about the famed actress.
The scene in question makes clear to anyone still watching by that point that McPhee is, at best, an adequate singer and a completely incompetent actress. But that’s not the way those sitting in judgment of her at the audition apparently see it, as looks of rapturous amazement slowly light up their collective faces. Ridiculous and so phony.
But worse follows that, as we are treated to one of the biggest, hoariest cliches in all show business — the one where the director insists on sleeping with the actress (in this instance McPhee) before he will give her the part. We watched — dumbfounded — as this horribly written and directed moment played out.
“Smash” gives a low opinion of theater business
The biggest problem with “Smash,” however, is that none of the characters is genuinely interesting. They are all self-centered and caught up in the very cloistered world of the theater. We just wanted to rush outside and breathe in some fresh air after we finished watching the pilot.
As he has indicated, Spielberg may have been in love with the theater as a young kid. We were too. And we still love it, when it’s good. But there’s nothing worse than bad theater. And that goes double for TV shows that purport to take us behind the scenes in the theater world, like “Smash” tries to do.
Sadly, Spielberg is now giving the world a TV show that, if anything, will leave mass audiences with a very low opinion of the theater business, which, we admit, has lowered its standards considerably in recent years as it tries to court new audiences
As for WMAQ and its news department, they better hope NBC has something much better than “Smash” ready and waiting in the wings. Yes, it’s time to cue the replacement.
Contact Lewis Lazare at: LewisL3@aol.com