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Might NBC's 'Smash' become a Broadway play?

April 06, 2012|By Meg James, Los Angeles Times

Could "Smash" be headed for Broadway?

When NBC developed the prime-time TV musical drama about cutthroat competition in the theater world, the network buttoned up the rights for a Broadway version of the show.

The series about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, which NBC recently renewed for a second season, may be a long way from getting to the real Broadway. Still, the show has long been a passion project for NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt, who has experience producing a stage musical and has assembled an elite group of executive producers with credentials in the theater world.

Steven Spielberg brought the idea for a TV musical to Greenblatt about three years ago, when Greenblatt was head of entertainment at Showtime. But Showtime's tight budget provided little canvas to paint an ambitious slate of programming.

"Smash" languished until Greenblatt moved to NBC early last year, when the show got an immediate green light. Greenblatt and Spielberg recruited producers with musical credits, including Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, part of the producing team behind the film versions of the musicals "Chicago" and "Hairspray."

Tony winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman — whose credits include music for Broadway productions of "Hairspray" and "Catch Me If You Can" — were brought on board to compose the original songs that are performed on "Smash." The duo retains certain rights to that music, and that ownership would carry over to any Broadway version.

By the end of the first season, there will be at least 15 original songs written for "Smash's" fictional musical, called "Bombshell."

"Bombshell," may, in fact, be the name of an eventual stage production. But for now, Greenblatt said he and the producers are concentrating on creating a blockbuster TV show rather than a "fully realized" play.

"I'm not saying that it will never happen, but we are all focused at the moment on completing our [Season 1] finale episode and have already started talking about the macro ideas for Season 2," Greenblatt wrote in an email to The Times.

"No one has thought twice about trying to find the time or energy to develop 'Bombshell' for the stage," Greenblatt wrote. "It takes several years to write and construct a big Broadway musical, and most of the hard work starts at the script stage before the songs are even conceived."

Greenblatt has long been interested in theater. Several years ago, he persuaded his mentor Peter Chernin, a former News Corp. president, to release the rights to the 1980 Fox movie "9 to 5," starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

From that, Greenblatt, while working at Showtime, produced the show "9 to 5: The Musical," which opened in Los Angeles in the fall of 2008 and had a five-month run on Broadway in 2009. (Megan Hilty, who played the Dolly Parton role of Doralee Rhodes in "9 to 5: The Musical," plays one of the prospective Marilyn Monroes in "Smash").

Now some wonder whether "Smash" could pave the way for a return engagement by Greenblatt on the Great White Way.

"I am working full time at NBC, and it wouldn't make sense for me to be a producer," Greenblatt said, adding, "Maybe I could produce 'Bombshell' when I'm long gone from NBC, which would be about the time that [a Broadway project] would come to fruition."

NBC's parent, cable giant Comcast Corp., has more riding on "Smash" than a potential Broadway play. NBC banked heavily on the program to boost its anemic ratings and serve as a beacon for more sophisticated programming. Although the network has spent nearly $70 million making and marketing the show, it has delivered only modest ratings. Six million viewers tuned in Monday night, although NBC executives have been encouraged that about 2 million additional people record the show and watch it later.

NBC noted that "Smash" draws one of the most upscale audiences in network television, coming in behind Fox's musically themed series "Glee."

It would not be the first time that NBCUniversal dabbled on Broadway. The company has an ownership interest in one of the most successful musicals of all time, "Wicked," produced by former Universal Pictures production executive Marc Platt.

meg.james@latimes.com

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