Could NBC's 'Smash' get a ticket to Broadway?
Could "Smash" be headed to Broadway? When NBC developed the prime-time TV musical drama about cutthroat competition on Broadway, the network buttoned up the rights for a Broadway version of the TV show.
The series about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, which NBC recently renewed for a second season, is a long way from getting to the real Broadway. Still, the show has been a passion project for NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt for years, and it boasts a large cast of executive producers with elite pedigrees and credentials in the theater world.
Steven Spielberg brought the idea for a TV show about a Broadway musical to Greenblatt about three years ago, when Greenblatt was head of entertainment at premium cable channel Showtime. But Showtime's tight budget provided little canvas for Greenblatt to paint an ambitious slate of programming.
"Smash" languished until Greenblatt moved to NBC early last year, where the show got an immediate greenlight. Greenblatt and Spielberg, who has invested in other Broadway shows, recruited producers with musical credits, including Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, part of the producing team behind the film versions of the musicals "Chicago" and "Hairspray."
Tony winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman were brought on board to compose the original songs that are performed on "Smash." The duo retains certain rights to that music -- and that ownership presumably would carry over to any Broadway version of the NBC series. (Shaiman and Wittman also wrote songs for Broadway productions of "Hairspray" and "Catch Me if You Can," in addition to the music for numerous feature films, and have won Grammys.)
By the end of the first season of "Smash," there will be at least 15 original songs written for the fictional musical around which much of the series' action revolves. In the TV show, the fake musical is called "Bombshell."
But does that mean it's Broadway-bound?
"Since our creative team has been writing songs and snippets of 'Bombshell' scenes only to tell the stories of our characters in 'Smash,' there is no fully realized 'Bombshell,'" Greenblatt wrote Thursday in an email to The Times.
"I'm not saying that it will never happen, but we are all focused at the moment on completing our [Season 1] finale episode and have already started talking about the macro ideas for Season 2," Greenblatt wrote, adding that next season will feature a second musical, as the fictional "Bombshell" heads to the fictional Broadway.
"So no one has thought twice about trying to find the time or energy to develop 'Bombshell' for the stage," Greenblatt wrote. "It takes several years to write and construct a big Broadway musical, and most of the hard work starts at the script stage before the songs are even conceived."
Greenblatt has long been interested in theater. Several years ago, Greenblatt persuaded his mentor Peter Chernin, former president of News Corp., to release the rights to the 1980 Fox movie, "9 to 5," starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
From that, Greenblatt, while working at Showtime, produced the show, "9 to 5: The Musical," which opened in Los Angeles in the fall of 2008 and went on to have a five-month run on Broadway in 2009. (Megan Hilty, who played the Dolly Parton role of Doralee Rhodes in "9 to 5: The Musical," plays one of the prospective Marilyn Monroes on "Smash.")
Now some wonder whether "Smash" could eventually pave the way for a return engagement by Greenblatt on the Great White Way.
"I am working full time at NBC and it wouldn't make sense for me to be a producer," Greenblatt said -- but he added, "Maybe I could produce 'Bombshell' when I'm long gone from NBC, which would be about the time that [a Broadway project] would come to fruition."
NBC, controlled by cable giant Comcast Corp., has a more riding on "Smash" than a potential Broadway play. The ailing network banked heavily on the program to improve its anemic ratings and serve as a beacon for more sophisticated programming. NBC has spent nearly $70 million making and marketing the first season of "Smash."
The show has delivered only modest ratings. Six million viewers tuned in Monday night, although NBC executives have been encouraged that the audience grows by about 2 million people, who record the show and watch it after it airs on TV.
NBC announced last month that it would bring "Smash" back for a second season. The network noted that "Smash" draws one of the most upscale audiences in network television, coming in behind another musically themed series, Fox's "Glee."
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, which adds attention to efforts to bring her story to life. (DreamWorks Television and series creator playwright Theresa Rebeck also have an ownership interest in the television version of "Smash.")
And there could be competition if NBC decides to trundle "Smash" to Broadway. Last fall, producer Harvey Weinstein said he was interested in turning his company's Oscar-nominated feature film "My Week With Marilyn" into a Broadway musical featuring Katy Perry.
It would not be the first time that NBCUniversal dabbled on Broadway. The company has an ownership interest in one of the most successful productions of all time, "Wicked." That musical is produced by former Universal Pictures production executive turned Broadway producer, Marc Platt.
-- Meg James
Top photo: Uma Thurman (center) next week will join the cast of NBC's drama "Smash" for a five-episode story arc. Thurman is pictured with actors Yami Mufdi and Sean Dugan. Credit: Will Hart / NBC
Bottom photo: NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt in 2009. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times