From the savior of Broadway to a desperate attempt on behalf of NBC to develop their very own version of Fox’s license-to-print-money that is GLEE, SMASH, an ambitious new series that will chronicle the excitement, pressure and drama surrounding the makings of a new musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe has been called a lot of things. But one thing it has yet to be called, is Broadway’s equivalent of television’s back-door pilot.
For those who don’t spend every waking hour watching and talking TV, a backdoor pilot is when producers use a standard episode of a series (like, say a BONES and/or GREY’S ANATOMY) to introduce, with the hopes of spinning-off, an entirely new one (like, say PRIVATE PRACTICE and/or THE FINDER.) Not only are back-door pilots a cost effective and low risk way to potentially launch an entirely new property, they odds of success are increased tenfold by tapping into an already fervent fan base.
But back to Broadway for a moment. As you may-or-may-not have noticed by the deluge of front page headlines generated by Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Broadway is a risky business. Every season investors with visions of Cats dancing in their head risk hundreds of millions of dollars in the hopes of latching onto the next big thing. Unfortunately, for every Rent or Wicked, there are 10 Carries (A failed show that has the dubious distinction of being what Time Magazine characterizes as Broadway’s biggest all-time flop ever!).
Which naturally got us to thinking, if handled correctly, SMASH just might represent a better way to make it big on the Great White Way. For unlike GLEE, a show that for the most part covers already popular songs, SMASH — which hopes to tell the story of what it really takes to transform an idea from a piece of blank paper to a full-tilt, original musical — will feature completely original material from two of the best in the biz, Hairspray’s Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Which means, by the end of SMASH’s run, however long that may-or-may-not-be, producers Steven Spielberg, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Chicago, Hairspray ) will very likely have written and workshopped an entire musical. Better still, one that has already been bought, paid and advertised for by NBC!
So is the series a new model to create and develop original musical amidst an increasingly costly and competitive landscape?That’s precisely the question we posed to SMASH star Debra Messing who was on hand in Toronto to help launch CTV’s 2011-12 schedule.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but it does seem like a fantastic opportunity and a natural extension.”
In other words, stay tuned.