On February 5th, Smash is back on NBC with a special two-hour Season 2 premiere, in which the Bombshell team is one step closer to achieving their Broadway dream. The Boston run was the success the team was hoping for, but everyone involved is about to learn that even a charmed show cannot avoid paying for sins of the past. Meanwhile, two young Brooklyn natives are hard at work on a current-day rock musical of their own, which could either become Bombshell’s biggest rival or just another Broadway bust. The show stars Debra Messing, Anjelica Houston, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Jack Davenport, Christian Borle and Jeremy Jordan.
While at the NBC portion of the TCA Press Tour, new showrunner Joshua Safran joined executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to talk about what led to the changes in Season 2, going from fan of the show to showrunner, how they’re handling the songwriting for two separate stage shows within the series, how Jennifer Hudson came to be a part of the show this season, the possibility of Ellis [Jaime Cepero] returning, and the chances of Bombshell becoming a real Broadway show. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Question: Josh, there have been a number of changes to the show, in terms of the cast, the storylines and some of the things going on. When you came in, what is it that you saw in the show that led to the changes?
JOSHUA SAFRAN: I had the great luxury to be able to be an audience member of the show for the first season, which was really exciting and thrilling to watch. And then, to be able to be a part of it, to come in and play in this world that was already established was great. It’s harder, from the very beginning, when you’re dreaming things up and seeing what was so great already. I don’t really think it’s changed that much. The stuff from last year that you loved is still there, and the stuff from last year that maybe some people thought went off on tangents, we looked at and tried to find a way to circle back together. It still is the same Smash, just bigger with more music and a little bit younger, in some regards, with some of our new cast members. But, I hope the people who watch it still see the same show that they loved.
When you looked at the show, what did you see as what worked and what didn’t?
SAFRAN: I think when anyone is an audience member and watches the show, they’re bringing their personal taste to it, whoever they are. As a writer, I always watch things with an analytical brain. So, there are things where I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” but there was never anything where I was like, “Oh, no, I didn’t like that.” I thought the show went in very interesting directions, sometimes. I wouldn’t say anything other than I thought it was interesting to watch. It’s somebody else’s world and it’s their personal feelings. When you create a show, it’s very, very personal. It was fun to actually be an audience member, and then come in and bring what I had reacted to and what I had felt with and what I had a relationship with, and play with those.
How are you handling the songwriting for the two stage shows? Are you having Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman] write strictly for Bombshell, and other characters write the songs for Jeremy Jordan’s character?
SAFRAN: No, Marc and Scott don’t just write for Bombshell. They write other stuff as well for the show, which you will see throughout the season and that is pretty great. And there’s a group of composers.
The show averaged about one original song per episode in Season 1. How many will you be doing this year?
SAFRAN: There definitely is more than that. One of the fun things, in the second season of the show, is that we do have more original music, more musical sequences per episode and more diverse musical styles, which we thought was really an amazing way to utilize Broadway. When you look at Broadway right now, there are shows that take place in the 1800s and there are shows that are today. It really is a bigger world view, and I just wanted to find a way to represent that Broadway on Smash as well.
How did Jennifer Hudson come to the show, how many episodes will she be in, and how are you going to utilize her in the plot?
SAFRAN: She’s in three out of the first four episodes. She came to the show because of Bob [Greenblatt], which was awesome. He had this idea, and he reached out and made it happen, and we were very, very grateful to have her. One of the things that we talked about, in terms of Broadway, is that there are these stars on Broadway and there’s the idea of showing Karen [Katharine McPhee] and Ivy [Megan Hilty] a symbol of who they want to be. Bob suggested Jennifer, and it was just absolutely perfect. It’s been great to have her. I think she’s really amazing. She sings a lot. She acts a lot. She dances a lot. Everyone got to work with her, and she’s just an amazing talent.
SAFRAN: There’s Liza Minnelli. We have Sean Hayes. We have Bernadette Peters coming back for several episodes. It’s fun, on a show like this, where you can widen the world view with show performers from other shores or bring in Broadway actors to play characters related to our cast. That’s amazing.
You hear from Ellis [Jaime Cepero] on the phone, in the end of the third episode back. Will Ellis show up again?
NEIL MERON: Ellis is still alive. You’re going to have to watch the show, but how could you forget Ellis?
There have been rumors that Bombshell will actually be turned into a Broadway show. Is that something that could happen?
MERON: It’s a really great question. Now that Josh is part of the team, we stand on the set and watch the Bombshell moments and always say, “Wouldn’t this show be great on Broadway?” But, that’s basically where we’ve left it, having these discussions ad infinitum. The first priority is to make the show, and that’s what we’re still focusing on. Whether that would happen in the future, that would be great.
CRAIG ZADAN: I think we always felt that Marc and Scott did such a brilliant job in writing such an amazing score for Bombshell that I would go as far as saying their score, taken together, rivals any score on Broadway, right now.
SAFRAN: There’s a soundtrack coming out, which is the score of Bombshell. It’s the cast album. You can hear it, from beginning to end, and you’ll hear this incredible full show.
MERON: I’m sure that’s going to inspire more conversation of, “Shouldn’t Bombshell be on Broadway?” I think all of us think yes, but have we done anything? No.
SAFRAN: Maybe it will be in high schools first.
MERON: And we have the greatest cast ever.
Neil and Craig, can you reflect on the first season and how it compared to previous TV projects for you?
MERON: It was actually fascinating because doing a TV series isn’t our first profession, but now we love it, just watching the series unfold over the first season and seeing people’s reaction. I read everything. I read the love. I read the hate. I read the bad. I read everything. And I hope I was objective enough to say, “Well, that makes sense,” or “That doesn’t make sense.” And when Josh came in for the second season and addressed all of those issues, it seemed that it was really the right fit. From what we understand, first-season shows need time to find themselves and really lock into what they are. Especially with a show like Smash, which has so many moving parts, to figure out the mechanism is really difficult. It’s in that process of finding itself. It’s a fantastic show and a fantastic machine, and when those moments worked in Season 1, I dare anybody to say what could be better entertainment. So, it’s about taking those moments that work and having Josh figure out how to keep it consistent for Season 2. That, for us, is very exciting.
ZADAN: Yeah, I would say that our instinct about the show followed a lot of the things that people were saying about the show. When we felt that certain things were going off kilter in Season 1, we would read about them, in either the press or on blogs or tweets, and it reinforced the feeling we had. We said, “If we are lucky enough to get the chance to come back for Season 2, wouldn’t it be great to fix those things or adjust those things or move those things around.” So, a lot of it sort of reinforced our own instincts about the show. When we sat down, in the early days, with Bob Greenblatt and Steven Spielberg, in Steven Spielberg’s conference room at DreamWorks, and we talked about the show, before there was any script or anything, one of the things that Steven said was, “Wouldn’t it be great, if this show is successful, if we did another musical, each year. We can keep the original musical going, but also do another musical in the second season, and then a third musical in the third season.” What’s been exciting, for this season, is to see that kernel of an idea that Steven had back then. Josh took it and made the concept work. When you see the season, what we’re really proud of and really excited about is the fact that Bombshell is ongoing, and yet Josh found a way to start a new musical that is radically different from Bombshell, on a parallel track that’s having its own life. We have the diversity of two different musicals happening, at the same time.
MERON: Well, the first one that comes to mind is the scarves. Without getting into specifics, there were certain storylines that were pinpointed and we said, “Yeah, they’re right. They could be a little bit more impactful.”
Neil and Craig, at what point did you and/or NBC realize that you wanted to change showrunners?
MERON: You know, it really wasn’t a question of us wanting to change the showrunner because that’s always a difficult thing. Theresa [Rebeck] is a really great artist, and she was very involved in theater. She always had plays going, and her focus was very, very much taken up by a lot of her other loves, which included the theater. It was a decision that just came down the pike. It was about availability and where her passions really lay.
Will there be more of the nitty-gritty of what it takes to put together a music, in the coming episodes?
SAFRAN: There will be a lot of it, actually. I actually think there’s maybe even more than last year because we have two musicals that you’re seeing in several states of development. That was one of the things that I think was so incredible from Season 1, with peeling back the curtain on this world that most people haven’t seen and show that process. This year, we really have gone for that. You’ll see a lot of it.
MERON: And Bombshell goes back into rehearsal, as well.
SAFRAN: Yeah, you’ll see a lot of Derek [Jack Davenport] directing and staging sequences.
Smash returns for Season 2 on NBC on February 5th.