It was virtually impossible last month to miss that NBC was premiering their new musical drama, "Smash," due to promotion, free pilot downloads and public screenings that were happening throughout the country. While that method of going to great lengths to make people know your show is on is commonplace in today's cluttered market, the musical drama has now aired five episodes so we thought it would be a good time to check in with executive producer David Marshall Grant.
During Grant's chat with our Jim Halterman, the writer/actor (who people will remember from his role as Russell on "thirtysomething" as well as an executive producer/writer on "Brothers & Sisters") gives his impression on the response to the show, teases some of the upcoming story points and chats up big names like Uma Thurman and Bernadette Peters and how the creative team incorporates them into the "Smash" fold.
Jim Halterman: Now that the show is out of the gate and you're hearing from fans and watching the ratings, how is that for you?
David Marshall Grant: For us, we had the unusual experience of shooting 12 episodes before we went on the air. It's, in many ways, an extraordinarily satisfying experience just [to do] the work without having anybody else weigh in yet. It was very much about the process and how we felt about it. The pilot was so well received [and] there was definitely a measure of pressure to do well and then when we were about to go on the air there was a measure of anxiety. In reality, we started shooting and it was what sort of what you'd expect with the kind of show that it was and the advertising and the interest people might have had but I think it's settling down. I think we're feeling pretty good about it right now. It's just a rare thing to be able to do the work and not know that your ratings are slipping or your ratings are doing great or this character is popping with the audience so we have to write more for this character or the Twitter feed made me so upset last night I went to the bottle. [Laughs.]
JH: What has surprised you now that the show is airing? Maybe something you weren't expecting to hear?
DMG: That's a good question but, ya know, I'm not that surprised, exactly, because I went through so many possible reactions in my head but... it's a big show and it makes itself heard loud and clear. There are some people it's just not going to attract in terms of an audience. I think the people who are going to like it are really going to like it and I feel a real audience being built out there. The music, it doesn't surprise me that the original music by Scott [Wittman] and Marc [Shaiman] is doing so well. It's not surprising that Josh Bergasse's choreography is so great. It doesn't surprise me that the acting is being received so well. Anjelica Huston, it doesn't surprise me that everybody loves her. Jack Davenport, popping like crazy. Megan Hilty. Like I said, it's a big show and if you go along for the ride you'll really like it. For some people, it's not their cup of tea.
JH: Did you know that going in that you might not reach everybody?
DMG: Yeah, we knew that so well that a show of this kind has never been done before. Everybody was wanting to make a show like this and it took the vision and desire of [Executive Producer] Steven Spielberg and [NBC Entertainment Chief] Bob Greenblatt to push this across the line. I think people have always been dubious about what audience this show would get. My feeling was always that if the characters were interesting and people wanted to follow that... America goes to New York and a lot of America goes to New York to see Broadway shows. A lot of the key audience in America loves Broadway musicals and I think the Broadway community is very central part of America's cultural identity. I think that a Broadway musical is a cultural icon so I was always optimistic that a show that has great music - and Scott and Marc have certainly delivered on that front - would attract an audience.
JH: Did you know from the start it would always shoot in New York?
DMG: I came on board once all those decisions were made but the pilot was shot here and I think New York was such a part of the pilot [and] Broadway is such a part of New York. Personally, I can't imagine anyone really seriously considering that. They may have but I never heard about it. You also get that fun aspirational part of New York. For part of episode four, we were in a loft and the Empire State Building was right outside the window. Where else could you have that?
JH: At this point, the drive seems to be Team Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Team Karen (Katharine McPhee) and their competition. Is that the true drive of the first season?
DMG: The drive of the season is two fold. It's the show and certainly the debate of who's going to end up playing Marilyn is a debate with twists and turns that last through the end of the season but, also, it's a story about the people and their relationships. I think that the stories are arced out in characters and their relationships. And then Uma Thurman is joining the show and that's one of the twists and turns that we take on the road to 'Marilyn.'
JH: You mentioned Anjelica Huston (Eileen) before and I realized the cast across the board is really broad in terms of age and we're not just focusing on the younger set. Was that always the intention with the show?
DMG: I think it was definitely created by Teresa [Rebeck, series creator] and Bob that way and it's been honored all year. It's a multi-generational cast and we definitely see the relationships and the emotional lives of pretty much everyone. I thought the Eileen story became very emotional for her in [Episode four] and then we had Nick Jonas so it's very generational, upstairs-downstairs without question.
JH: And you have some big guest stars with Uma and Bernadette Peters coming up. How do you bring those big names in without it disrupting the reality that you've created within the show?
DMG: Look, [Bernadette's] going to shine without question. She's Bernadette Peters. But we fold her into this story and she plays Ivy's mom and it's a wonderful performance and it's really a great episode. It's the workshop episode and she has a really great emotional scene. So if you can get someone like that into the story in an emotional way you tend to start forgetting that it's Bernadette Peters and you start thinking that it's Ivy's mom. That's what we tried to do and I think we were really successful in giving Nick Jonas a character that was right for him but I think it surprised people how well he did. He did a great job and, again, we just tried to put him into the story instead of just featuring him as a star. Likewise with Uma. Uma comes in and she's going to be a part of our ensemble like the rest of the them are. That's part of the deal coming into the show and hopefully it can work best for everybody.
JH: I want to ask about Ellis (Jaime Cepero). I always love a good villain so is that what we truly can expect him to evolve into?
DMG: I think we mentioned at TCAs... someone mentioned that the press was very interested in Ellis and they considered him Chekhov's gun. That is so true! I think when you bring a gun on the stage it has to go off. I think he's definitely Chekhov's gun. It's a really fun character. He's definitely a character that everyone loves to hate, which is good. That's a good part to play.
JH: What can I tease for audiences in the coming episodes?
DMG: I think the next couple of episodes deal with getting closer and closer to the workshop and certainly the competition continues to simmer between Ivy and Karen. I think that what is going to happen when the workshop comes along and brings Bernadette in... it's going to be a very moving episode. All the characters try to navigate their way through the crazy reality that is their lives in this workshop. It's always going to have that kind of drive to it.
"Smash" airs every Monday at 10:00/9:00c on NBC.