It seems that the original intention for NBC's "Smash" is a little different from what producer Steven Spielberg originally had in mind. Initially considered as a cable project, the idea was supposed to stick 100 percent to the behind-the-scenes story of the creation of a musical, with even the musical in the show becoming a real-life production on the Broadway stage. The Marilyn Monroe musical "Bombshell" could easily be produced on the real-life stage (yes, with the amazing Katharine McPhee as the lead), but why did at least half of "Smash" become a throwaway of soap opera elements?
The reason is obviously because it became a mainstream network show where the producers feared not pleasing all viewers. What they didn't realize is that sticking strictly with behind-the-scenes tales on the creation of a musical might still go over well on a mainstream network without having to move to HBO or Showtime.
There might have been some who desired seeing "Smash" debut on cable instead so the backstage world could be upfront, as well as extremely uncensored. Because that wasn't allowed on NBC (save a few surprisingly saucy sex scenes), the personal relationship problems were forced into supposedly suiting a certain demographic who don't care about the mechanics of show business.
Halfway into "Smash's" first season, the ratio of personal problem stories outweighed the stories of the musical's creation. It reached the point where every time Debra Messing's Julie character encountered her old flame Michael Swift (Will Chase), you wanted to roll your eyes and take a quick vacation to CBS's competing "Hawaii Five-O." Fortunately, everything else (especially the music) was just about perfect to keep it from going under.
When "Smash" returns mid-season in February 2013, it simply has to make some small changes in order to avoid the above scenario for millions of frustrated viewers. But the massive creative conundrum might be how to tell about the creation of a musical without adding some personal hardship stories. Yes, you can argue some of the soapy elements were still necessary to add resonance to what creative people go through.
The best of these was the relationship between Karen and Dev (McPhee and Raza Jeffrey), mainly because the characters have more depth and compelling backgrounds. Julia and Michael's affair was a page torn right out of "Days of Our Lives" with nothing involved really affecting how "Bombshell" was created. You can say the same with the Tom/Sam gay relationship, plus Simon Cowell-like director Derek Willis where his Ivy affair fizzled into a dull, contrived subplot.
Rather than juggling the personal tales, Karen's relationship with Dev should be the focus next year, along with emphasis on the music and dancing. It's clear that Katharine McPhee is the true star of "Smash," and you almost wish the whole trajectory would be her showbiz journey for a newly empowered female TV lead. In that regard, the show could truly focus on the serpentine road of working in entertainment as a life lesson guide for real-life wannabe starlets.
"Smash's" season ending episode, though, has Ivy (the equally good Megan Hilty) ready to take a bottle of pills. It places another inexorable problem of defining this part of the show as a lesson guide or a soap opera cliffhanger.