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TV Column
Posted at 11:42 AM ET, 01/08/2013

TV critics balk when NBC exec calls ‘Smash’ an ‘unqualified success’


Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright. (Mark Seliger - NBC)
NBC’s musical drama “Smash” was an “unqualified success in its first season” NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2013.

“Well thank heaven for one good laugh today,” the critics responded, in their heads.

Television critics may not get the same respect as film critics, but they do have one huge advantage — they’re reviewing ongoing programming and can therefore affect its progress.

Nothing pleases them more than when that happens. But nothing makes them madder than wet hens than when their helpful suggestions are ignored (see Michael Patrick King’s “2 Broke Girls” press tour Q&A; also Aaron Sorkin’s “Newsroom” Q&A).

“Smash” was conceived as a show about the mounting of a B’way musical called “Bombshell” about Marilyn Monroe. The Great and Powerful Steven Spielberg is behind the project. It received much initial love from TV critics and premiered in a big way last spring — nearly 12 million viewers and nearly 4 percent of the country’s 18-49-year-olds, who are targeted by advertisers, according to press reports at the time.

After that it sprang leaks for the rest of its first-season run. Its May first-season finale averaged about 6.1 million viewers and just under 2 percent of the nation’s 18-49-year-olds.

All of these initial stats moved up when Live + 7 day DVR viewing was factored in, but the trend remained the same.

At the end of the season, a good-ish chunk of the cast was let go, as was the showrunner.

After Greenblatt delivered his “unqualified success” gag, one critic asked if he could qualify “unqualified success.”

“No, I can’t,” Greenblatt snapped.

“You did wind up having to replace the showrunner,” the critic noted.

“No, I can’t qualify ‘unqualified success’,” Greenblatt repeated, adding, “ it’s one of our highest rated shows,” after which he mentioned its indexing.

(Here’s how indexing works: If 10 people watch a show, and all 10 of them are rich and well-educated, you’ve hit a niche home run. “Smash” was last season’s most upscale drama on the broadcast networks in its concentration of high-income homes. “Smash” also was the No. 2 drama in concentration of high-education homes on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox, behind only NBC’s “Parenthood.”)

Later in the day, “Smash” cast and producers took the stage and critics tried again to get shown some love.

One noted the line in the trailer they’d just seen in which the “Bombshell” gang read the reviews and someone said, “Don’t worry. They loved the music. They loved the actors. They loved the cast, but they didn’t like the scripting.”

“Seems like that was reflecting the real life reaction to ‘Smash’,” a critic asked new showrunner Josh Safran, leadingly.

“Absolutely not. No. No. Absolutely not. Sorry,” Safron replied.

Drat!

Things got better when “Smash” exec producer Neil Meron said he read “everything” written about the show, including “the love” and “the hate,” adding, “I hope I was objective enough to kind of say, ‘Well, that makes sense’.”

Things got even better when exec producer Craig Zadan said, “When we felt that certain things were going off kilter in Season 1, we would read about them in either the press, or on blogs, or tweets, and it reinforced the feeling we had.”

“So which of the negative tweets did you agree with?” a critic asked greedily.

“Well, the first one that comes to mind is the scarves,” Meron said.

By  |  11:42 AM ET, 01/08/2013

 
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