Why Did ‘Smash’ Crash?

Over at the New York Times, Charles Isherwood explores why, after two seasons, Smash lost its way with the public.

“Why tempt the showbiz gods by calling your show Smash in the first place? A $10 fortune teller on St. Mark’s Place might have steered the producers away from that choice. Perhaps it was hubris of Hollywood players to whom people rarely say no.

Also in the fate-tempting department was the decision to place at the center of the show a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. Those who follow Broadway know that an actual musical about Monroe ranks among the most notorious flops of the 1980s, which was a vintage decade for notorious flops. The real Marilyn: An American Fable churned through all sorts of personnel changes and turmoil before opening at the Minskoff and closing after only 17 performances, racking up a total of zero Tony nominations.

Sadly, watching most of the numbers from Bombshell, as the Marilyn musical in Smash was called — and once again, really, ‘bomb’? – I had the uneasy sense that I was discovering just how impossible it must have been to make a non-cheesy musical about such a complicated and celebrated figure. Although Mr. Shaiman and Mr. Wittman are skillful and smart songwriters, their ingenuity was soundly defeated by the inability to avoid all the obvious clichés of the well-worn Marilyn storyline.

Enter Hit List, the downtown musical that was brought into the plot line this season to provide a rival for Bombshell. Exit more credibility. This supposedly edgy show, hatched at a theater modeled on New York Theater Workshop, where Rent began (exterior shots were filmed there), was a flashy pop spectacle that tried with a panting desperation to ride the exotic coattails of Lady Gaga, and of course felt every bit as authentic as a teenager vamping before the mirror.

Tellingly, the funniest Smash joke didn’t happen on the show itself, but on NBC’s late, great 30 Rock. During the finale of that show’s penultimate season, after the travails of Smash had already become fodder in industry circles, Tina Fey’s character Liz gave proof of her unshakeable loyalty by exclaiming to her boyfriend, ‘Hey, I don’t bail, I’m still watching Smash!'”