“Smash” Showrunner Safran Interview Part 2: Rebeck, Season One, Glee, and More


Safran: They promoted the hell out of it, marketed the hell out of it. It was a little strange to me that – I didn’t love that the premiere was two hours, personally. If the premiere had only been the first hour and it ended with Jeremy singing “Broadway Here I Come,” and you felt that tingle of, there’s something new there? And you had all week to discuss it? It would have been a little better than jumping right into it. We didn’t engineer it – no one told us until after we had finished shooting that it was two hours. We would have engineered a two-hour [premiere]. It would have been a two-hour movie. [Episodes] sixteen and seventeen are engineered that way, we knew it would air at once so they are like one. There’s a month between them but they still are the nominations and the Tonys. It’s very clearly bookended.

At the time, because we thought they were going to air a week apart, one and two, we knew that episode one had to deal with a lot of stuff from last year and be a little bit darker in tone. We thought, “Let’s make [episode] two much lighter in tone.” I think it would have played better if it had aired separately. That’s another thing I feel strongly about.

The first episode, it was almost comical, when it was basically throwing all these things from last season out of the way. 

Yeah, yeah, we had to. I’m incredibly proud of, for instance, in “Cut/Print, Moving On,” you learn really quickly, right away, that Karen’s not talking to Ivy, and all those little flashbacks and clips that teach you some stuff. There was a lot to do.

“I think we shouldn’t have waited so long to premiere.” Safran would have preferred a November season two start date. “[Season 1] was done by May and we didn’t start airing until February again. That works in cable when it’s on all the time in reruns, but on networks I don’t think it really works.”

There was a lot of subtle poking at the audience in that opening, too.

It’s funny – yes, but it wasn’t engineered that way. It wasn’t intentional, but of course it’s going to happen because it’s so what we were dealing with. But people were saying in the beginning that we were doing way too much meta. The only thing that we really did meta, was the premiere. Meaning the first episode, not even the premiere, episode one, was the only thing meta, where we were like, OK, let’s tell everybody, “Cut/Print, Moving On.” We know that was that, and this was something else.

That’s what I’m referring to; I only found out last week that people thought that the criticism of Julia’s book was a jab on Theresa Rebeck’s first-season plot.

Yes. Which wasn’t, by the way. I think at a certain point it occurred to us that it would be viewed that way, before it aired. The real reason for that was, we were talking about what gets the most negative attention when a show opens out of town? What’s the biggest problem? It’s always the book. Or, maybe the direction, but we know Derek’s a great director, we’ve seen that. And we knew that Julia was distracted, and we had heard that there were problems with the book. So when we sat down with [composer/lyricist duo] Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman], and we said, what are people always saying, what’s theatrical lore? And they were like, “It’s always the book. The book, the book, the book.”

So, that’s where it came from more. And more that Julia was having an affair: it fitted, and we also knew we were going to be getting Julia to be single, away from Frank. It really came out naturally and then after that it was like, “Oh, shit! It looks like we are ragging on last year’s book,” which wasn’t the case initially.

After that, I was like, you know what, some people had problems with the book of last year’s Bombshell; they didn’t know where the book was. I didn’t ever want to make fun of Theresa’s writing because A) I have the utmost respect for Theresa, and B) I actually think the show in so many spots was actually really well written. It was just that it was still finding itself, so pieces didn’t fully connect. I just wish some stories, they had slowed them down just a little bit because there was so much good stuff in them.

Q: Do you think there’s an audience for a musical television show that’s not geared to teenagers?
A: No, I don’t.

I didn’t want to knock on the writing at all. I think she is an incredibly talented writer. If she had stayed with the show and they had brought me on, I would have been happy to work with her. Seriously, I hope someday I can bump into her and we can have a laugh over everything. I don’t think that can happen, judging by the emails that she sent to Buzzfeed, but again, I’m so grateful that I got the opportunity. The characters that she invented were incredible. They were so rich, there were so much to them. It was so easy to take on Tom and Julia and Derek and Eileen because she had created such full characters. Eileen is so clear. To have the luxury of sitting down and knowing fully who this woman was when you sat down to write is incredible. It’s like someone did all your homework for you but you were allowed to turn it in.

I just feel bad because I really loved the show. I really loved it. I loved it so much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dana.kiehl.37 Dana Kiehl

    Thank you Mr. Safran for a fun season. You clearly put your heart and soul into this show and you did it with class. You made a really good effort on a very complex show

    • smashfan32

      I totally agree! All the hate is disappointing. What a job to have had. Yeeesh.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/IWBANJEMRHF22KL346CK2OOS3A G

        agree you tried your hardest to please people but some always are complaining as the above commenters ‘twee’ & ‘m’ did. Can’t please everyone!
        Karen did an amazing job as Marilyn & her song & dance numbers were amazing! a real standout!

  • twee

    I was promised talk on Ivy’s arc. Where is it? I’d like some words on that please, because I can’t see how it can be denied that Ivy was massively marginalized both in songs and screentime and I’d like a little info.

    • Melissa Anelli

      It miiight have gotten squashed to next one? Lemme check. THIS THING IS LONG.

      • twee

        I saw the Fosse explanation in part three, and am delighted arguments some of us have been crafting were justified, especially as we took hits from fans who didn’t get that at all. So thank you, that one answer is worth a lot to me.

        • Melissa Anelli

          Then I am very glad to give it! I had no idea that people were already speculating that.

    • Melissa Anelli

      Ah: it’s in part one. And a little in the next one. :)

    • Melissa Anelli

      (However, I don’t agree she was marginalized. She and Karen shared that thing. Especially last week, YOW, did you see “Grin and Bare It”? Girl tore it up!)

      • twee

        If we think she’s a secondary character, she wasn’t marginalized, but she was on par with Karen in adverts and for most of last season. Count the songs each had, the screentime, the -half song- out of a Liasons arc that went nowhere. Look at the fact that out of the new Bombshell Marilyn songs, Ivy got one, while they made sure Karen got two, fully staged, despite also getting a bulk of Hit List. Plus the whole JFK number she made creeptastic.

        Not saying Ivy didn’t have some fantastic moments, but that’s what she has – moments, closer to Ana than anything – we have essays on this, more than this box is worth, but it’s something that becomes rather more blatant if you don’t care about Karen and are merely watching for Bombshell and find you’re viewing takes 15 minutes and Ivy is a fraction of that while the FF button lingers on Karen, Jimmy, and Derek.

    • m

      agreed, twee. and ivy was definitely marginalized.
      maybe that’s not necessarily safran’s fault, but of the editing (and the people who decide what gets cut, of course). because ivy did have things to do this season – with “dangerous liaisons”, derek, leigh… the jfk guy? -, yet most of her scenes and storylines were rushed, underdeveloped or dropped. then again, it seems most scenes that got cut had to do with “hit list” (relating to kyle and daisy/derek I suppose).

      anyway, congratulations on the interview, melissa! will be here for part 3. even though I complained a LOT about “smash”, I followed it addictively.

  • Pocahantos Longfeather

    I will miss what Smash could have been, rather than what it was. In my dreams they would have rewritten and recast Karen; turned her into a relatable woman with discernible flaws. They would have done away with the slut-shaming of Ivy. They would have made Derek atone for his sins, instead of acting like a victim. They would have abandoned the Rent/Hit List comparisons because those felt cheap and easy…

    And I could have loved that show. As it is, I kind of hated this one.

    Side note: Glee did have a moment like “High and Dry”. It was old Rachel doing “Torn” with New Rachel.

  • mmmelpomene

    Melissa, nice interview, Mr. Safran is clearly a writer with the ruling passion strong inside of him, and that is nice to see. I am stepping in hoping that he will see, or you will be kind enough to convey to him, that we’ll accept as many plot-informing deleted scenes as he can manage to cram onto a set of DVDs!

    • Melissa Anelli

      :) You’ll hear a lot more about that in part three. I’ll make sure he gets the memo though. :)

    • Melissa Anelli

      (And you are absolutely right about the passion.)

      (I’d also like to say how impressed I am at how nice the LeakyNewsers have been. Considering how vicious Smash discussion can get online, this has been pretty cool to see.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=624051004 Jennifer Shaw Smyth

    “I just feel bad because I really loved the show. I really loved it. I loved it so much.” I loved Smash too. I really loved it. So very much.

  • Tony Armelin

    Joshua, I have watched both seasons in their entirety three times. It strikes me as even better the second and third time you watch it. I applaud the craft of all the writers, actors and film crews who worked with you and Theresa. I wish you and your team could have had another year to deepen and extend the directions Smash was going in. For example, I’ve particularly enjoyed how Derek has been more fully realized, and had hopes for that kind of evolution for some of the newer characters such as Jimmy and Kyle. The arc of the Kyle character, in particular, mirrors the underlying transformative journey that Smash the TV show endured; both had flaws, but both began to demonstrate increasing self-confidence in coming into their own, never lost heart, and sadly had their lives cut too short.

  • Talulah

    Yes but….the dialogue stunk to high heaven both years. If your audience is adult, give your characters adult things to say….”I want to be with you…for a long time???” Safran can’t excuse his way out of that or any of the other stink up the joint, laughable dialogue.