In a Flyover State: Why 'Smash' Is (Shockingly)Music to My Ears

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I hate musicals. Hate them. The only musical I ever go to on Broadway is 'Rock of Ages,' which I like because it’s all awesome ’80s power ballads (can’t wait for the movie). That’s how bad my taste is.

I happily acknowledge this as my shortcoming. Make no mistake about it: I am the lowest common denominator, the defi nition of male meathead. I love sports and hot chicks. I’d rather go to a NASCAR race, soccer game or virtually any sporting event than a museum. That below-the-belt, oversexed, borderline prejudice humor many of you thumb your nose at in 2 Broke Girls? Makes me laugh my ass off. I just wish Kat Dennings was wearing a little less when she was delivering those punch lines. See, I can’t get more pathetic.

So NBC’s latest, greatest hope, Smash, is not exactly aimed at me. It is a show set in the making of—that’s right—a musical. I don’t think a thirtysomething Neanderthal like me is the target audience.

And yet here’s the thing: Smash may be the best pilot I have seen since Modern Family. Like anyone else who will tell you the truth in Hollywood, I have no idea what will really pop on broadcast television. But if quality counts, NBC could have a desperately needed hit on its hands, if the flailing network can somehow get people to sample the charming and funny show.

The good news is they are going to die trying. At NBC’s upfront last May, you could actually tell which shows Bob Greenblatt liked and didn’t like. NBC’s entertainment chief is good at a lot of things, but man, would I love to get in a high-stakes card game with him and that poker face.

And Greenblatt’s personal love for Smash seemed to be on display again at the TCA meeting with TV critics this month in California, when he actually went on stage and introduced a panel about the show himself. That just doesn’t happen.

The ultimate horror ensued when, during a clip being played of the new boss’ favorite show, there was a technical glitch. This show is so important to Greenblatt that I am pretty sure whoever was responsible for the video snafu wasn’t around too long. And I’m not sure if I mean at the company or on this planet.

Yes, NBC’s fall stunk so bad that at one point, NBCU chief Steve Burke abruptly summoned all his top lieutenants to New York to figure out what happened and what to do. And Greenblatt told the media at TCA that the fall was worse than he had hoped for but about what he expected—though I’m not sure what could have been expected from the network that brought us Free Agents.

But Smash marks Greenblatt’s first real referendum. And he just seems to inherently love this show. He’s not alone.

Big stars don’t make TV shows alone, but the cast of Smash is a revelation. And the chemistry makes you wonder how these people have not performed together before. Debra Messing’s role as a lyricist is infinitely passionate and likeable, Angelica Huston brings major gravitas to the screen, and American Idol starlet Katherine McPhee is magnetic in voice, charm and looks. Oh yeah, and there are a bunch of good-looking dudes who can act, too.

By the way, it’s OK to say looks matter. I have long said that a hit show needs to have a lot of people that viewers of every sexual orientation want to sleep with. It’s fine; say it out loud. You know I’m right.

Smash’s story line of the genesis of a musical is fantastic: it’s got aspiration and nasty bite, two of the aspects that made this country fall in love with another little musical phenomenon called American Idol. Oh yes, and it’s got plenty of song and dance. If you love musicals, this will be more comfort food than a big bowl of mac and cheese.

Sure, like any show, you can pick apart details, like when Huston’s character barks, “I’ll see you in court,” a line so pathetically overused in film and TV it has become a parody of itself.

And the producers are aiming high, as they keep invoking The West Wing as a creative inspiration—a high bar for sure, considering the early years of that show were simply the best any television show has ever offered. They may want to temper those expectations a bit: Just ask Simon Cowell about that.

By nature, I should hate Smash. I am so immature that it took me weeks to stop laughing when the title of the show came out, because my cousins have long used that same word to refer to moving their bowels. Actually, it turns out, I haven’t yet stopped laughing about the word “Smash.” I just did it again out loud as I wrote this. Clearly, someone of my inferior mentality on several fronts couldn’t care less about a show like this.

Except I love it. Enough that I can’t decide if NBC is screwing up by not debuting it right after the Super Bowl instead of their face-saving The Voice, which along with the NFL and a few other properties has basically kept NBC from becoming Telemundo English in primetime.

Obviously, on the surface, a football audience is not the target. It reminds me of Jimmy Kimmel’s great line at an upfront a few years back about Fox putting Glee on after a Super Bowl, saying it would set a record for the most drunk guys saying, “What the f--k is this?”

Except the Super Bowl is not a typical NFL audience— it is big and broad.

Which is why Smash—despite all odds being stacked against my love for it—may just become exactly that for NBC.

The last line of the pilot has two Marilyn wannabes bellowing out the words, “Let me be your star.” That’s just what Bob Greenblatt and NBC have their hopes set on.

E-mail comments to bgrossman@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman

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